Wed. Oct 27th, 2021

Even before the Taliban took over their country in August, these women were already hiding with their young children, waiting to be reunited with their husbands in Canada.

Now without a man’s escort, these wives and mothers can not even leave their homes and move around to take care of themselves and their children.

The 170 women and 385 children are stranded in Afghanistan as their missing family reunification in Canada is further buried in thousands of new applications amid Ottawa’s Afghan resettlement operation that began this summer.

“My children can not go to school and my wife can not even go out to get food without being accompanied by a man who is now under the Taliban,” said a former senior Afghan government official who left his spouse and 10 children for asylum. in Canada in 2018. He received protection two years ago, but did not get his permanent residence until last month.

“We have done everything. We have called and emailed Canadian officials, but we have been ignored, “added the 41-year-old, a spokesman for The Forgotten Families, which represents 180 Afghan refugees who have been granted asylum in Canada but are separated from their spouses and children. .

Like others in his group, the Toronto man, who has been diagnosed with anxiety and depression, asked for his name to be withheld for the sake of his family’s safety in Kabul.

The most frustrating thing, he said, is to see other Afghans who only recently applied for resettlement to Canada arrive, while their own families, who have been in the queue much longer, are still stranded at home.

“Many of these families hid from the Taliban and have been terrorized for years, not just the last two months. They have been caught and lost in this crisis, “said Bridget Lynch, a supporter of these Afghan families who help coordinate the group.

“The recent event of getting the Taliban to take over the country has moved them to profound trauma. The wives have waited and waited and kept the family going. Now they have lost all their rights to go out. ”

This week, the group sent an open letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino and Foreign Minister Marc Garneau demanding that these women and children be given priority in their resettlement operation.

In July, Ottawa joined an international evacuation effort to resettle 20,000 Afghan civilians to Canada through its special immigration measures, doubling the target to 40,000 last month.

One of the special programs focuses on the resettlement of particularly vulnerable groups, which include women leaders, human rights defenders, journalists, persecuted religious minorities, LGBTI people, and family members of former resettled interpreters.

“Canada has begun securing seats on charter flights to bring people out of the country, but women and children traveling alone are not a priority,” said The Forgotten Families, which also includes a few Afghan women in Canada who long to stay reunited with their husbands and children left in Afghanistan.

“It is urgent to give this most vulnerable group the highest priority – before it is too late and it is forbidden to travel at all.”

According to a recent report by Refugees International, women and girls – let alone those without a male figure at home – are in danger in Afghanistan as gender rights quickly eroded into the Taliban’s hands in the short two months since they returned to power.

Lynch said many of the families belonging to her group were falling into the long-running family reunification for refugees.

“The immigration department has included these families’ files in thousands of other files that have been accepted recently,” explained Lynch, who worked internationally with her mother’s newborn health and had visited Afghanistan..

“These 170 and 180 family files have pretty much just been spread through thousands of files. So immigration says, ‘Well, you know, we’re looking at your files,’ but in fact, they’re just waiting in line to be processed. “

In their open letter, the Afghan refugees cited the growing risks their families face at home, including an incident a few days ago when the Taliban broke into one of their family homes and searched for the man who was in Canada. The wife and the young children were told that they would come back to take one of the children if the husband was not there when they returned.

Daud, 45, who was granted asylum in Canada in February 2020 and whose full name has been detained for security reasons, had waited 18 months to get his permanent residence in Canada in early October.

The former doctor said life in Afghanistan has gotten worse for women who do not have a male relative in the household. His wife, for example, could not take their seven-year-old son to a doctor for his bladder problem due to the Taliban’s restrictions on women’s mobility.

“When Canada started evacuating people in Afghanistan in July, I told my family that they should be able to join me soon. “Today we still have not heard anything,” said the father of four, who now works as an Uber driver in Toronto to support himself and his family.

The group asked Ottawa to speed up family reunification applications, prioritize seats for women and children traveling alone on the chartered flight, and reconsider the terms of cost-effective travel loans to make travel possible for all families.

Neither Mendicino’s nor Garneau’s offices responded to the star’s requests for comment.

Nicholas Keung is a Toronto-based journalist covering immigration for Star. Follow him on Twitter: @nkeung

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