For fear of the Taliban, employees of Canadian NGOs are trying to flee Afghanistan – National

Click to play video: 'Afghanistan faces humanitarian crisis as foreign aid is still frozen'

Afghanistan is facing a humanitarian crisis as foreign aid is still frozen

Afghanistan faces humanitarian crisis as foreign aid remains frozen – 31 October 2021

Muhammad Ibrahimi proudly used to present himself as Program Director at the Kabul Office of Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan.

He’s more careful about it now.

Fearing it would bring him on a collision course with the Taliban, he scrubbed his social media, got a beard and sought refuge in Canada.

“We feel insecure about ourselves and our families,” he said in an interview at his home in Kabul.

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Inside Kabul’s secure houses, where Afghans are waiting to be evacuated to Canada

While Canada’s Afghan resettlement efforts are strongly focused on the local people who worked for the Canadian forces, employees of Canadian aid projects also feel vulnerable under the Taliban.

They fear that being associated with projects that promoted progressive causes and were funded by the Canadian government has put them at risk under the Taliban.

Many NGOs did not want to be identified, but Global News spoke to Afghans who said they had worked for the Aga Khan Foundation, War Child Canada and others.

NGO workers said they were not prioritized by the Canadian government, which was instead concerned about former employees of the Canadian military.

A Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan project.

A Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan project.

Development programs represented Canadian soft power in Afghanistan and were a complementary and equally important part of international efforts to stabilize the country.

Canada provided $ 3.6 billion in development aid following the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001, which had provided a safe haven for Al Qaeda in the build-up to the 9/11 attacks.

But NGOs funded by Canada, working on issues such as women’s rights and education, said the return of the Taliban had endangered their Afghan staff.

The Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan (CW4WA) said it had 25 employees in Afghanistan, but only two had been able to leave the country. One arrived in Canada and another reached Pakistan.

The cases of four others were still being processed, but most employees had heard nothing from the government, said Lauryn Oates, Calgary-based group chief executive.

A Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan project.

“It has not given us much faith in the way this is being managed and the government’s response to people who are at very, very real risk,” she said.

“These are people in very precarious positions, people who are hiding and worried about how much longer they can stay in the country.”

She said her staff worked on programs that were “inevitably connected” with Canada, and they had appeared in the news media and at public events.

“And now they’re in danger because of it, and so I think Canada needs to stand by people and make sure they help bring them to safety.”

Read more:

Hope shattered by Taliban return, Kabul women see no future in Afghanistan

The Afghan resettlement program announced by the government has two streams – one for those who worked for the Canadian military and another humanitarian program for human rights and women activists.

But according to non-profit groups, the Liberal government recently changed the eligibility requirements for the humanitarian resettlement program so that only Afghans “outside of Canada” can apply.

They also said that Afghans can no longer apply directly but must be referred by the UN or other approved agencies.

The Afghan Ambassador to Ottawa, Hassan Soroosh, called on Canada to speed up the treatment and evacuation of vulnerable Afghans.

Canada’s new immigration minister, Sean Fraser, told Global News on Wednesday that he was “looking forward to getting a little more information this afternoon so we can start putting the wheels in motion.”

Click to play video: 'New immigration minister promises to help Afghan refugees'

New immigration minister promises to help Afghan refugees

New immigration minister promises to help Afghan refugees – October 27, 2021

Meanwhile, the staff of several non-profit organizations told Global News that they remained stranded inside Afghanistan and expressed frustration over the slow pace of their Canadian immigration cases.

They also called on the government to find ways to get them out of Afghanistan, either by resuming extraction flights or by convincing neighboring countries like Pakistan to close them in.

Ibrahimi said he believed those who supported Canada’s development projects would be given priority for evacuation.

“But most of us, including me, are still waiting,” he said.

He was sure the Taliban would look at him with suspicion if they questioned him and heard the name of his employer.

He said Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada had not provided any update on his case since August.

“We still have not heard anything back from them,” Ibrahimi said.

Taliban-armed men in Kabul Park.

Stewart Bell / Global News

Wendy Long, the director of Afghan Canadian interpreters, said the processing of resettlement cases involving NGO staff was slow.

“This is where I see a very, very slow admission or process of getting application offers,” she said. “And this is where we experience that there is a backlog in approvals.”

Mohammad Fahiq Tahiri said in his office inside a Kabul complex protected by rolled-up razor wire that he felt exposed because of his work to promote women’s rights and protect women who were victims of violence.

“The risks are rising day by day,” said Tahiri, program director at the Afghan Women’s Skills Development Center, which is partially funded by the Canadian government.

He said he had received an email telling him that his case had been approved by Canadian immigration. But he was supposed to go to a Canadian embassy in another country to get his visa, which is almost impossible.

“Unfortunately, we are still in Kabul and we have no way to escape,” he said.

Basir Bita, in the middle, at women's protest in Kabul, 2015.

Basir Bita, in the middle, at women’s protest in Kabul, 2015.

The trip out to Pakistan was appalling for Basir Bita, who said in an interview that the Taliban beat him after searching his phone and finding out that he had deleted his social media accounts, which they found suspicious.

A late afternoon rain fell as a heavy gate opened to a carport and Bita came out of the building in Islamabad where he was waiting for approval to go to Canada.

The security was with good reason.

Bita once wore a blue burqa and marched through the streets of Kabul as part of a protest by Afghan men against forcing women from head to toe into the country’s women.

He later worked at the Canadian Women for Women’s office in Kabul, Afghanistan.

On August 15, he was in a meeting at the office of a peace group in Kabul as the participants one by one got up and left.

It amazed him until his father called and said the Taliban were on the streets.

He cycled home through a city that transformed before his eyes – shops close, people look scared, the progress of the last two decades recedes. It persuaded him to come out.

“Within just an hour, you could see a deep transition,” Bita said.

He agreed to come to Canada and was told to go to Kabul airport but there were so many people trying to escape it was chaos.

He returns seven times, including the day an ISIS-K suicide bomber struck.

He said he met Canadian soldiers near the airport and showed them his documentation, but they said they could only help Canadian passport holders.

Shattered access to the abandoned Canadian embassy, ​​Kabul.

Stewart Bell / Global News

Instead, he headed north to Mazar-e-Sharif, where Canadian women for women in Afghanistan had booked him on a plane to Pakistan. But when he tried to get to the airport, the Taliban intercepted him and sent him away.

When he later returned, his taxi was stopped and the driver was hit with a stick, Bita said.

A third attempt the next day was also unsuccessful. The Taliban wanted confirmation that he was allowed to leave.

After six days in Mazar-e-Sharif, he tried again. He remembered the Taliban looking at his ID and asking him why he was leaving Afghanistan.

“I’m fleeing because of you,” he said, telling them.

He was finally able to take off with a UN plane with 15 people on board. But he said he was worried about his bereaved colleagues.

“The rest are still in Kabul,” he said. “I feel frustrated because they’re still there.”

Bita’s hopes for Afghanistan have been shattered, he said. A non-violence and peace institute he planned to open was put on hold, he said.

He called the return of the Taliban “terrible” and said that although he would like to return to Afghanistan one day, he could not say when.

“We’re still waking up from a nightmare.”

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