Grief and guilt are all Zakia Zarifi has felt since returning home to Ontario from Afghanistan.
“I’m happy to see my family here, but it’s torture for me because I couldn’t bring my parents with me,” the Brampton realtor said over the phone.
“It was the toughest farewell ever, but deep down I hope I can get them here.”
The single mom says she was beaten, shot and barely dodged a bomb outside Kabul airport during the chaotic journey. All she thinks about now is helping the people left behind.
“(A) genocide… is happening in Afghanistan right now and no one is talking about it. That’s why I’m here, but my mind is still here.
Zarifi, 50, arrived this week with tears and warm hugs from her three grown children. They worked frantically to bring their mother home after the Taliban took control of Afghanistan in August. She had been there to try to get her aging parents out of harm’s way.
Before going out herself, Zarifi criticized Canada’s evacuation of its citizens from the region.
She told The Canadian Press while stranded in Afghanistan that she made two attempts to escape before the August 31 deadline for the US-led military mission, but had beaten by members of the Taliban and pushed back from the airport gates.
She was angry with the Canadian authorities who told her and others to meet in dangerous places, while other countries helped their citizens to get on military planes using airplanes. safer routes. Ten days after the Canadian Forces left the region, and as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was criticized for mismanaging the evacuation, Zarifi received another call from Global Affairs Canada, she said. This time the plan was better. “They told me to be at (Kabul) the Serena hotel and then from there the Qatari government was in charge of taking us to the airport. We had a flight with the Qatar airline (to Qatar). ” On Tuesday, she was on a plane from Doha in Canada.
“The first flight that left Afghanistan (had) all different citizens around the world. On the second flight … there were, I believe, 10 Canadians.
She said others on the return flight were telling horrific stories of the Taliban knocking on their families’ doors and taking their men away.
“They took their birth certificates and took them there. They are all gone, ”she said.
“Someone even knocked on my parents’ door. The guy who takes care of them (said), ‘No one lives here’, and they left.
Zarifi said his parents are a target as they are from Panjshir province in the northeast, at the heart of the military resistance in Afghanistan and where his father fought the Taliban regime.
While she waited for a flight, she and her family helped other Afghans, she said.
They donated items to their home, distributed 120 blankets and provided food to 500 families. Many of the Afghans they have helped are among the thousands of religious and ethnic minorities who fear the Taliban’s return to power will lead to oppression or death.
Zarifi recalled a similar trip she made in 1987 during the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan. She fled from Kabul to Pakistan. Two years later, she moved to Canada.
“The Afghans… the majority of them are refugees and they all found a way out before and during much worse times,” said Zarifi’s daughter, Marjan.
“When my mother first came to Canada, she had to walk two days, two nights to get to where she needed to go. They were shot directly at them. So she did it twice.
“She keeps a lot of strength and says, ‘It’s going to be fine,’ but every day we can’t think clearly… Everyone’s still living, but my spirit is constantly with my family and what’s going on.”
Despite her frustration with the Canadian government, Zarifi said she was grateful Trudeau had not forgotten her and other citizens.
“I just hope the liberal (government) will do their best to bring people in because their lives are in danger,” Zarifi said.
“When I moved here, I was working 20 hours a day. I worked as an accountant, I did bookkeeping, night shifts at Walmart. I worked hard. I made my living for myself.
She said she prayed that other Afghans would have the same chance to have a new life. For her part, she plans to continue helping people in Afghanistan in any way she can.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on September 17, 2021.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of Facebook and the Canadian Press News Fellowship.
Fakiha Baig, The Canadian Press