Afghan refugees enjoy Albania, but have their eyes set on Canada

GOLEM, ALBANIA – An Afghan teacher calls Albania a “paradise”, while a former Afghan official can not get enough of the “freedom” found in the small western Balkan country where they were evacuated after the Taliban took over their home country.

Others are more thoughtful. An Afghan woman who supervised orphans regrets the end of her project and the fate of her former students and women under their new Taliban rulers, while a businessman misses his company at home.

They are all in limbo, waiting for a visa to the United States at the Kolaveri tourist resort on Golem Beach, 50 kilometers west of the Albanian capital Tirana. And everyone shares a common dream: to go from the United States to Canada, where they hope to build a better future.

The resort houses 571 Afghan evacuees picked from their “terrible and chaotic” land, as Fareidoon Hakimi, who has become the leader of the community, described Afghanistan.

A group of 125 Afghans, including judges, cyclists, journalists, TV hosts, human rights activists, family members of Afghan diplomats, artists, law enforcers and scientists, landed in Albania on October 13, assisted by IsrAID, an Israeli aid organization.

Albania has protected up to 2,000 Afghan evacuees, all accommodated in hotels and resorts. They are expected to stay there for a year or so until the US authorities finish processing their special immigration visas.

“The Albanian country in the world / its earth is like paradise,” was part of a poem written and recited by 61-year-old poet and teacher Sadiq Zarei for visiting Associated Press journalists. “They saved the shama’il and all of us,” it concludes, referring to a collection of sacred tales about the life of the Islamic prophet Muhammad, compiled by a 9th-century scholar.

Hakimi said everyone at the resort could now pray in peace there or go to a nearby mosque, especially on Fridays. Albania’s 2.8 million people are predominantly Muslims and live in harmony with Orthodox and Catholic communities.

Hakimi, a 36-year-old former public administration adviser in a province near Kabul, talked for hours about the saga of how they fled Afghanistan.

“People never expected this to happen suddenly,” he said of the US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Together with his wife, his 2- and 5-year-old sons and his mother, Hakimi reached Kunduz in northern Afghanistan, where they tried to cross into Tajikistan. There were about 125 people like him that the Taliban tried to stop. After many days, they took to Mazar-i-Sharif airport, flew to Tajikistan and had to wait for three days inside the terminal until Albania offered them visas and IsrAID chartered a plane.

At the resort, Hakimi and 17 other section leaders work non-stop to provide food, entertainment, psychological support and other basic needs to the relocated community. He and others enjoyed the freedom they were given and praised the warmth of the Albanian staff.

“We would hardly pass this difficult moment without their candid welcome,” Hakimi said.

At the fenced and guarded beach resort, children play while the elders stay in the coffee bar, walk around or stroll on the beach. A young Afghan woman is studying on a laptop. Many gather in groups to spend the day in Tirana or the nearby town of Durres.

When Mohammad Javed Khan, who worked as a clerk in the Afghan parliament, was asked what they found in Albania, his immediate answer was “Freedom”.

“The freedom that every human being needs; relaxation, sleep,” he said. “We can sleep without fear.”

Security and fear of family members were the biggest concerns for Afghans trying to escape. Khan, who arrived with his wife and 3-month-old daughter, said he has finally relaxed.

“No one wants to take our daughter,” the 27-year-old said. “No one wants to carry out suicide bombings … We ran away because there was no security.”

Leqa Fahimi arrived with her husband, 9-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son, who misses home and wants to return. In Afghanistan, she worked with an international non-governmental organization that cared for orphaned girls.

“I taught them about kindness, about friendship, self-confidence, how to share their own story with the world,” Fahimi said, adding in a desperate voice, “We had lots of activity for the girls. And now … I do not know where they are. is.”

The evacuees try to stay busy, help the resort staff and each other, organize sports activities or entertainment for the children.

Hakimi expects confirmation of a special application visa from the US government.

“We have all the good things here that we had lost at home,” he said. “But I want to go to Canada, where my brother and sister are.”

The same with Fahimi, the poet-teacher, and the clerk, Khan.

“We would love to go to Canada because Canada has the best immigration policy and part of my family lives in Canada,” Khan said.

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