Afghan refugees settle in Saskatoon after Taliban takeover, look ahead to life in Canada
The Taliban, Farkhonda Tahery said, were always close in Afghanistan. “We could feel their presence everywhere,” she told Global News.
“We could see that they are everywhere because there were a lot of explosions.”
But she never thought they would overwhelm her home so quickly.
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Tahery, 24, is adapting to her new life in Saskatoon but also coming to terms with the life and future she and husband Jawid Sarwary, 28, left behind in Afghanistan.
Sarwary said he knew they would have to leave when U.S. President Joe Biden announced in April that American troops were withdrawing completely from the country. Tahery thought the worst-case scenario would be if the Afghan government were to reach a power-sharing deal with the fundamentalist group.
But what coalition, and especially American, forces and efforts built in two decades fell to the Taliban in just 10 days. The Taliban conquered their first provincial capital on Aug. 6 and the country’s capital Kabul on Aug. 15.
Global News is not revealing where Tahery and Sarwary lived or how they escaped in order to protect their families, friends and anyone else who will try to take the same route.
They said they felt betrayed by the Afghan government for falling so quickly and not fighting like they believed the military could.
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Both attended university. Tahery worked as a researcher and Sarwary as a software developer. They said they both were hoping to pursue more education and get their Masters degrees, in sociology or data science for Tahery and in data science or artificial intelligence for Sarwary.
They said they counted themselves among thousands of young Afghanis who were working to build better lives for themselves and for their country.
When asked what the country’s future might have been, Sarwary said Afghanistan could have looked like Canada or the United States.
But the Taliban, they told Global News, halted any progress.
“Their policies, their ideology, their mentality would not allow Afghanistan to grow. They are trying to close every door to Afghanistan,” Tahery said.
“If you are thinking all the time about… your own, just, safety, to… not be beaten or not caught by Taliban… you cannot think about the future of a country.”
Tahery said Afghanistan is now suffering from a ruined economy, lack of security and the Taliban’s conservatism.
That conservatism — fundamentalism — will prevent women and girls from taking part in society or going to school.
All Afghanis will lose their freedom, she said, because “you cannot give the freedom to half of the population while (the other half) are just imprisoned in their own houses.”
“You would lose joy, you would lose hope, you would lose… the human resources to build a country, to make it a better.”
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Sarwary said he hid in his house for two weeks after the Taliban took over, stating, “if they take you they will definitely kill you as punishment.”
He said he and his friends erased data and contacts from their phones in case the Taliban seized them, to protect other people.
With the help of the Prince’s Trust Charity, they came to Canada. They arrived on Sept. 14 and have been living in a hotel since then.
In a few days they’ll move to a house to start their new lives.
They said they’ll work to improve their English.
“I think that’s the first step for every newcomer here,” Tahery said.
“And then we are planning to do our Masters.”
They said their initial impression of Canada — besides the cold — was how diverse the country is.
“We couldn’t see two people looking familiar. We could see that people are from very different countries. So that was what was interesting for us.”
When asked what about Afghanistan they hoped Canadians would know, they both said that it’s not just a war-torn country.
“We might struggle with language but we have a lot, we have a set of skills here,” Tahery said.
“We can contribute to the community of Canada.”
A question about what they left behind proved too much for Sarwary, who needed to step away from the interview.
When he returned, he said he is worried for his family and friends who are still in the country.
“I have concerned and worried (sic) about my families, especially my brothers and my sisters… they’re left behind,” he said.
They fled so quickly they weren’t able to tell their families they were leaving until after they were gone.
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No matter what he does, Sarwary said he’s always aware others are trapped.
“It’s a complex of enjoyment and guilty,” he said.
“It’s weird,” Tahery added, saying when she goes outside to appreciate the weather “suddenly you remember, like, ‘what happened to that friend?’ ‘What happened to that family member?’ It’s a crazy feeling you don’t enjoy.”
She said it’s heartbreaking to know what Afghanistan is going through and not being able to do anything to stop it.
They say they’d like one day to return, if Afghanistan is ever freed.
But they know they have a better future in Canada — even if they’ll always wonder what could have been.
“We have our struggles, but then we have our choices,” Tahery said.
“It’s very nice living here.”
© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.