Following Taliban takeover, Canadians in Canada urge Ottawa not to let their country, families, be forgotten

Thousands of delicate purple flowers sit bathed in sunlight against a backdrop of towering jagged slopes in the Afghan province of Herat, their distinct scent gently sweetening the air as they await their fate.

Inside, each contains three fragile red threads, carefully hand-picked to produce the world’s most expensive spice: saffron.

But this year, as the harvest season approaches, the fate of the flowers, which are almost exclusively picked by female farmers, is in the hands of the Taliban, who will decide whether they will be allowed to collect the flowers, whether they will be picked at. all or left to rot.

For Nazaneen Qauomi, it is as if the flowers themselves symbolize the future, not only for the women, but for the whole of Afghanistan.

After immigrating to Canada in 2014, Qauomi recently visited its home country to create a social entrepreneurship program with a group of female farmers who would give them microloans to eventually start their own businesses.

“Safran was the biggest hope they had,” Qauomi told CBC News from her Toronto home.

Afghan women collect saffron flowers in the Karukh district of Herat, Afghanistan, in November 2016. The flowers are harvested only once a year to produce the world’s most expensive spice. (Mohammad Shoib / Reuters)

But everything changed when the Taliban quickly took over when the United States left the country in August. Afghans who escaped their rule decades earlier watched the country appear to be plunged back in time almost overnight.

“It was a common pain that we all felt, and a recurring story that we all saw,” Qauomi said. “Especially for my mother, it was not easy to watch the news and again repeat their whole story about how we used to flee from city to city, how we were afraid of the bombs.”

Now, two months after the familiar reality that so many tried to forget has re-entered, Afghans like Qauomi fear that when the international community threatens to put the Taliban on the sidelines of human rights violations, ordinary Afghans, including women and minorities, suffer during treatment. They plead with the world and especially Canada not to let their country and their loved ones who are still there be forgotten.

‘How are they going to survive?’

“We need the world’s attention to Afghanistan … not just thinking about what Afghan women should be wearing, but thinking about the biggest problems that people face, and that is poverty, lack of access to education, lack of access to health centers, “said Qauomi.

“All the women who lost their jobs who are breadwinners. How are they going to survive?”

SE | Nazaneen Qauomi cares about Afghan women who provided for their families:

‘How will they survive?’: Entrepreneur Nazaneen Qauomi worries about Afghan women who were the breadwinners of their family before the Taliban took power

Before the Taliban seized Afghanistan, social entrepreneur Nazaneen Qauomi met with female saffron farmers to establish a partnership to help them start their own businesses. Now the future of the saffron fields is in the hands of the Taliban, who will decide whether the women are allowed to pick them or whether they are picked at all. 1:42

Rustam, a Canadian citizen, fled with difficulty and hardly Afghanistan after the Taliban took over.

He had traveled to Kabul to visit his father, who died of COVID-19, just before the Taliban moved in. But now he fears for his bereaved brother and other human rights defenders like him, who he says are likely to be hit by the Taliban.

CBC News has agreed to identify Rustam only by his first name for safety concerns for his brother, who has a wife and three children but is still stuck in Afghanistan despite working on projects funded by the Canadian government.

“There are a lot of people who have contributed tremendously to Canadian projects like my brother, but unfortunately they are stuck in the pipeline. These people are highly educated people and they are worried about their future, what will happen to their children.” said Rustam.

“I was one of the lucky ones.”

A random encounter

After burying his father, Rustam was to fly back to Canada on August 18th. But a few days earlier, the Taliban had taken control of Hamid Karzai Airport.

Rustam twice unsuccessfully tried to reach the airport gate amid tear gas and bullets, but gave up after hours of waiting, worried about the well-being of his mother and wife, who had secured the papers to join him in Canada.

On his third attempt, it was the same. The Baron Hotel gate, where the Canadian government had asked him to show up, was flooded with people. The family wanted to return when a boy of about 15 years old, who apparently helped people navigate the area for a small fee, asked where he wanted to go.

SE | He escaped the Taliban. Now he is urging Canada to bring in those who have helped it:

‘I was one of the lucky ones’: After escaping the Taliban narrowly, he pleads with Canada to help endanger human rights defenders

Canadian citizen Rustam narrowly escaped Afghanistan after a chance encounter at the Taliban-controlled airport with a young boy whom he attributes to having saved his life. Now he is urging the federal government to do more to bring human rights defenders still trapped in the country, like his brother, over before it is too late. 4:15

Rustam was hesitant. It was impossible to know who to trust. He told the boy he was going to reach Canadian soldiers and gave him $ 5. The boy asked him to follow, and together they weaved through the crowds to another gate, where he was able to speak directly to an American soldier who connected him with the Canadians.

Days later, the overflowing sewage canal near Abbey gate, which he, his mother and wife trudged through to safety, was blown up in a suicide bomber. Rustam has no idea if the boy who saved his life survived.

“That kid, actually, he’s probably the reason I’m here,” he told CBC News. “It was because of him that I was able to find a way … I hope he’s okay.”

‘They’re in danger because of me’

Sediqa Nawrozian never intended to leave Afghanistan.

The women’s rights activist with a master’s degree in public law had published several books at home. As a member of the Shia Muslim minority, she had been in Halifax for a conference on women’s leadership in 2016 when her brother called and told her not to come home.

The Taliban had tracked down her address and showed up and asked for her and threatened her family, he told her. Nawrozian turned from one day into a refugee, separated from her family and faced an uphill climb to find work in a country where she had no experience and where her credentials might not be recognized.

SE: Sediqa Nawrozian on Dangers, Women Activists and Minorities Facing Afghanistan:

Women activist Sediqa Nawrozian about becoming a refugee from one day to the next and the dangers that minorities like her family face in Afghanistan

A women’s rights activist with a master’s degree in public law who published several books at home, Nawrozian, a member of the Shia Muslim minority, had been in Halifax for a conference on women’s leadership in 2016 when her brother called and told her not to come. home after the Taliban visited her family. 2:28

In recent years, Nawrozian, now a Canadian citizen, has acquired several certificates but has had difficulty finding work in his area of ​​expertise, with COVID-19 making the task so much more difficult. So far, she is volunteering to teach women in Toronto’s Thorncliffe and Flemingdon Park neighborhoods to sew while she tries to secure paperwork so her family can escape.

“I’m thinking of my family because they’re in danger because of me, and I’m here now. What’s going on with them?” said Nawrozian.

“Not just my family. The whole minority community in Afghanistan is in danger, all the families that their daughters, their wives, their members work for women’s rights, work for human rights, against the Taliban. All those families are now at risk. They do not know “what will happen to them in the future. That is my concern.”

‘Talking does not mean being a friend’

Mohammad Hashim Nazarwal had been in Afghanistan for his mother’s funeral when the Taliban appeared to infiltrate Kabul. No one seriously believed that the capital would be taken, but Nazarwal remembers the day he realized that the United States would not stop them.

Afghan security forces “left their humvees on the road, changed clothes, left their uniforms and took taxis home,” he told CBC News.

SEE In Mohammad Hashim Nazarwal on Why It’s Time for Canada to Speak to the Taliban Now:

‘Speaking does not mean being a friend’: Mohammad Hashim Nazarwal on why Canada should start dialogue with Taliban

Mohammad Hashim Nazarwal had flown to Afghanistan for his mother’s funeral when the Taliban appeared to infiltrate Kabul. He remembers the day he realized the United States would not stop them, saying that Canada and countries that supported the war in Afghanistan have an obligation to act when the country faces a disaster. 2:09

“The whole Afghanistan operation was a failure,” Nazarwal said after returning to Toronto. “Lives are lost, resources are lost … the ordinary guy has never benefited.”

Still, he said the departure of the United States as abruptly as it did has meant that ordinary Afghans are being punished for not stopping the Taliban when even foreign forces failed to oppress them.

What is needed now, he said, is dialogue with the Taliban.

In a statement to CBC News, Global Affairs Canada said it “remains committed to Afghanistan” and has announced an additional $ 50 million in humanitarian aid since August 26 to Afghanistan and neighboring countries on top of the $ 27.3 million already allocated to Afghanistan this year.

“If the Taliban choose to ignore fundamental human rights – the rights of women, girls and minorities – they should expect international isolation,” the statement said.

But speaking does not mean recognition, Nazarwal said. “Speaking does not mean being a friend. There should be a channel for dialogue.”

“It’s such a passive policy only to sit until America comes … it’s against democratic laws, it harms Canadian politics, prestige, it’s a responsibility of the Canadian government to act.

“This is the beginning of the tragedy … If the Canadian government is not aware of this, it will be tomorrow [too] late. The same mistakes will be repeated in a different form. “

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