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Saskatoon welcomes 200 Afghan refugees

SASKATOON, SASK. — A large group of young Afghan women and their families have found a warm welcome in snowy Saskatoon.

Since September, about 200 refugees have arrived in the Saskatchewan city from Afghanistan. The young women in the group, which includes their families, were all students or graduates of Marefat School in Kabul, which championed women’s education. Since the Taliban took control of the country in August 2021, the school has only been open to boys.

Tanis Folstad, a teacher in Saskatoon, says her new students are excelling, in large part because of the English they learned in Kabul.

“They are very hardworking and they take their school very seriously, and I can see the other students are inspired by them,” Folstad told CTV News.

“She’s so nice, yeah I love her,” Muzhgan Samim said of her new teacher.

Fearing for their lives under the Taliban, many young women and their families embarked on a harrowing journey through Afghanistan to Pakistan before heading to Canada. When they finally landed in Saskatoon, Staff Sergeant Patrick Barbar of the Saskatoon Police Department made sure to be there to greet them.

“When I was at the airport and the doors opened, I realized it was lives we were changing,” he told CTV News.

In 2010, Barbar spent a year helping train the Afghan National Police. When the country fell to the Taliban last year, he wondered if his service was worth it. Barbar says seeing the young refugees and their families arriving in September proved to him that this was the case.

“It was the closure most of us were looking for,” Barbar said. “It’s important for us as a country to continue to welcome as many people as possible as we finish the job we started almost 20 years ago.”

The Canadian government has promised to resettle 40,000 Afghan refugees, although there is no timetable for doing so. To date, Canada has brought nearly 7,000 people from Afghanistan since August 2021 through three different streams, according to official figures. Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada also received 14,720 applications from Afghans who helped the Canadian military during what was Canada’s longest war.

In Saskatoon, former newcomers are also helping young women and their families adjust to life in Canada, like Sultan Ali Sadat. Sadat works with the Saskatoon Open Door Society, a non-profit organization that helps newcomers. He arrived as a refugee from Afghanistan in 1998 when the Taliban took over.

“Everything we have in excess, we give it away, share with them,” Sadat told CTV News. “It’s like because they don’t have anyone here – the brother, the sister, the parents – we are family to each other.”

Saskatoon Mayor Charlie Clark says the city is getting back more than it is giving to its new residents.

“We all become stronger when we work together to help others,” he told CTV News. “So that’s a great source of strength for our community.”

Having so much community support has in turn given Afghan women the strength, hope and courage to dream of helping girls back home return to school.

“Provide them with an opportunity, a chance to study and stand up,” newcomer Mina Rezwani told CTV News. “It’s my dream, only to work for girls.”

Rezwani remains optimistic as she experiences her first Canadian winter.

“Minus 40, and to freeze eyelashes?” she said. “It’s surprising!”

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