Dozens of female Afghan students have escaped the Taliban with the help of a Toronto-based charity and are on their way to Saskatoon after an adventurous land trip over the past weeks.
Nearly 100 girls with their families have managed to flee to Pakistan after failing to exit Kabul before the airport closed. Several Afghan female dancers were also part of the group.
They will travel to Saskatoon within the next three weeks, Canada’s immigration minister confirmed on Sunday.
The group of about 200 Afghans spent weeks trying to find a safe route to escape the Taliban, which recently regained political control of the country and opposed women’s education.
On Friday, the Taliban decided that male high school students should return to class, but not girls.
Prince’s Trust Canada, a charity founded by Prince Charles that supports youth and veterans programs and was involved in coordinating the exodus, said it was relieved that the group had finally made it to safety.
“They are an extremely inspiring community and they now have the opportunity to grow and continue their education in Canada,” said charity chairman Mark Fell.
Backed by a youth charity, the girls tried to flee by air after the Taliban took control of the country in a lightning strike last month. But conditions proved too dangerous to allow the girls and their relatives to reach Kabul airport.
They then tried to make it to another Afghan airport and considered fleeing to the border with Uzbekistan and eventually fled to Pakistan via a route that cannot be disclosed for security reasons.
The federal government confirmed on Sunday that it plans to resettle girl students and their families in Saskatoon. They are expected to travel there within two or three weeks, and will be quarantined after their arrival in Canada in accordance with federal measures to limit the spread of COVID-19.
About 35 Afghans have already arrived in the city of Saskatchewan, which is home to a small community of refugees from that country.
Fell said the Prince’s Trust wholeheartedly supports the city’s choice that the group will soon call home.
“The Canadian government chose Saskatoon,” he said. “It’s a great place for them to settle down.”
A spokesman for the immigration minister said another small contingent of female students, who managed to escape with the main group, had traveled to Mexico.
The Canadian press has agreed not to share details of where the girls are from or where they are being educated for security reasons.
Federal Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino said Canada “will exhaust all options to help Afghan refugees find protection in our country.”
“Hosting women, girls and persecuted minorities is at the heart of Canada’s humanitarian response to the crisis in Afghanistan,” Mendicino told The Canadian Press.
“More than 200 girls and their families will soon be starting a new life in Saskatchewan, which is further proof of that commitment and we are not stopping there.”
On 13 August, the federal government announced that it would resettle 20,000 Afghans who had fled their country, and a support for particularly vulnerable Afghans, including women leaders, human rights activists, journalists, persecuted minorities and members of the LGBT community. will set up special programs. as well as family members of former interpreters who have previously fled to Canada.
There were 3,700 Afghan refugees, including Canadians, former interpreters and other country citizens, who had been driven out of Afghanistan by Canada before US troops completed a frenzied withdrawal from the country in late August.
Since taking over the country, the Taliban have targeted girl students and their teachers. A May attack on a girls’ school in Kabul killed more than 85 people, many of whom were attending classes, before the Taliban formally returned to power.
Organizations that help settle refugees in Saskatoon offer language classes, as well as help with finding housing and employment.
They also run programs where local families can donate furniture, clothing and children’s toys, while local schools provide support to refugee students to help them adapt.
Saskatoon-based driving instructor Ifti Khan, who is originally from Pakistan and teaches refugees to drive, said the city is a “welcome place” for refugees.
“It’s a place where you can live your life freely,” he said. “There’s a lot of opportunity here, to grow up and get an education, and we have a lot of room.”