Afghan refugees call for Canada to work with Pakistan ahead of scheduled mass deportation | CBC News

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Ghiasuddin Shahanshahi has been trying to bring his family to Saskatoon since arriving as an Afghan refugee a year ago. 

One family member, his sister-in-law, managed to make it safely to Saskatoon this week, but five others are living in a tent on a rooftop in Islamabad, Pakistan. He says they were recently arrested by Pakistani police and now face the risk of being deported back to Afghanistan — into the hands of the Taliban.

Pakistan’s government has declared that all undocumented Afghan refugees must leave the country by Nov. 1 or face deportation. Shahanshahi said his family members have been approved as permanent residents to Canada, but they are unable to leave Pakistan because they don’t have exit permits — documents granted by the Pakistani government — and would be arrested approaching the airport.

Shahanshahi wants the Canadian government to work with the Pakistani government on a solution to allow Afghan refugees to safely exit Pakistan before the deadline.

A man hugs a woman.
Ghiasuddin Shahanshahi hugging his sister-in-law, Nadia Manucher, who arrived in Saskatoon on Thursday. (Chanss Lagaden/CBC)

Nadia Manucher, Shahanshahi’s sister-in-law, arrived in Saskatoon on Thursday. She was already in Pakistan as a student before the fall of Kabul and had the documents needed to travel. She wants to resume her education in Saskatoon.

“I’m finally feeling safe. I feel so happy for my future. I have no words,” Nadia Manucher told CBC News Thursday at the Saskatoon Airport.

Manucher echoed Shahanshahi’s call for the Canadian and Pakistani governments to work together.

“Please do something for the rest of the family. My uncle is ill and there is no one to bring him to the hospital. I’m so worried,” Manucher said. “The [Pakistani] police don’t respect Afghani refugees. They are treating us like animals.”

According to the UN Refugee Agency, there are more than 1.3 million registered Afghan refugees and 775,000 undocumented Afghans in Pakistan.

Shahanshahi said his parents, his two sisters and a niece fled Afghanistan after seeing friends being forcibly married to the Taliban. The family entered Pakistan in February with the aid of a trafficker who disguised them as shepherds.

“It took my family a week to travel there, passing through treacherous mountains, using camels and donkeys as their transportation, and now they are stuck in this situation,” he said.

A bald man in a suit sits against a wall with goldens streamers.
Ghiasuddin Shahanshahi arrived as an Afghan refugee in Saskatoon a year ago. (Pratyush Dayal/CBC)

Shahanshahi said his 67-year-old father is suffering from stomach pains, worsened by the stress. On his way to the hospital on Oct. 9, he was intercepted by the Pakistani police, who found he had no legal documents.

“They came to my parents’ home and arrested all my family. They put them in jail, and not in the police stations,” he said.

He said it took $3,500 USD to get his family released.

Shahanshahi said his concerns aren’t only for his own family.

“Many other refugees approved to come to Canada are in the endless wait,” he said.

Silence from IRCC 

Shahanshahi said the Canadian embassy has not communicated with his family at all. He said the embassy should either transfer his family to safe housing or provide letters of protection.

He said there is no timeline for when his five family members might be able to come to Canada, and that more than a dozen calls and emails to Immigration, Refugees, Citizenship and Canada (IRCC) have fallen on deaf ears.

“This is the worst scenario,” he said. “I’m disappointed. Why is Canada not helping?”

In an email statement Thursday, IRCC said the government, including the Canadian High Commission in Islamabad, continues to monitor the situation closely and actively engage in dialogue with Pakistan on the resettlement of Afghans.

“We will continue to work with the Government of Pakistan to expedite movement of Afghan clients to Canada,” the statement said.

“We continue to explore all avenues and maximize every opportunity, alongside our partners, to bring Afghans safely and quickly to Canada.”

When asked about the number of undocumented and documented Afghan refugees waiting in Pakistan to come to Canada, the department said it could not provide any details on operational information, including the requested numbers, because Afghans are a vulnerable population in Pakistan.

A man on his laptop.
Shahanshahi says the Canadian embassy has not had any communication with his family. (Pratyush Dayal/CBC)

CBC spoke with Shahanshahi’s family members still in Pakistan, who say everyday in hiding is a struggle, from accessing washroom facilities to arranging meals.

“If anybody gets to know about us, we change our location. I don’t know what we should do,” Shahanshahi’s sister said. CBC is not identifying her to safeguard her identity. 

Shahanshahi said he has had many sleepless nights and worries his family, if caught again, will be jailed.

“My only message to the Canadian government is please take care of the refugees. If you promise to the people, then just bring them here and help them,” he said.

‘Situation is dire and critical’: Afghan refugee

Muqim Mehran, a former Afghan journalist now in Pakistan with his family of six, said hope is dwindling for those who have nowhere to go. He said his family is actively looking for sponsorships from Canada and the U.S. as the Nov. 1 deadline approaches.

“The situation is dire and critical for us in Pakistan as the police come to the refugees’ houses during the night, treating all Afghan refugees like terrorists regardless of whether they have legal documents or not.”

Mehran said a Pakistani visa, which used to be free before the collapse of Kabul,, is now more than $1,000.

“The biggest problem is the corruption within the Pakistani police. Under the pretext of deporting Afghan refugees, they just arrest Afghan refugees arbitrarily, move them to the police stations and then release them for a bribe,” he said.

“Whether it is Saskatoon, Canada, or any other country — I’m seeking asylum in a country where I can live freely and my children can pursue their education.”

A row of men and women.
Muqim Mehran, second from left in the back, is a former Afghan journalist now in Pakistan with his family of six. (Submitted by Muqim Mehran)

Mehran said his past as a journalist puts him in an even more precarious situation.

“If we are sent back to Afghanistan, we would be killed by the Taliban,” he said. “The Taliban cannot tolerate the activity of free media.”

He pleaded with the Canadian government to find a way to resolve the situation.

“We are like the leaves of a tree here, can fall any minute. I’m just praying for us.”

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