Nargis Attaiee was 17 when the Taliban took control of Kabul, something she never thought could happen. Six days later, his family would flee the country and begin a journey ending here in Edmonton.
Attaiee and her family are among 800 Afghan refugees who have settled in central Alberta since the Taliban retook control of Afghanistan in August 2021, and are among a growing number of refugees resettled with the support from Catholic Social Services.
Attaiee said the takeover happened at the end of the school year, as her class was writing one of its 12th grade finals. In the middle of the test, she said the teacher suddenly told the class to put their things away and leave: the Taliban had taken over the capital and the children had to go home.
“On the way back, nothing was normal,” Attaiee said. “People were wandering…like deer roaming the city, not knowing where to escape.”
“That was the last time I saw my school. That was the last time I saw my friends.”
She said her mother, who died three weeks before Kabul fell, told her about the former Taliban regime, which banned girls from going to school. But, she adds, it was still hard to believe such a thing could happen in the 21st century.
“In the space of one night, we all said goodbye to my family, my friends and my hometown,” she adds.
Her family and a group of other Afghan refugees spent five months in Pakistan before coming to Canada and arriving in Edmonton in January 2022. Over the winter, she learned to skate and play hockey, she says, and she’s currently finishing high school at Center High, with her goal to start college in 2023.
“After being in Edmonton, Canada, everything changed in my life. I started school, I met new friends,” said Attaiee, adding that after school this summer, she volunteers at Free Play for Kids as a junior coach.
“But there are still thousands of girls in Afghanistan who cannot go to school,” she adds. “Their dreams are being destroyed.”
“I really want the world to hear our voice. And not just have pity on us, but also help us.”
SIGN OF HOPE
Attaiee and her family are among a growing number of refugees arriving in the province assisted by Catholic Social Services (CSS).
Kathryn Friesen, director of immigration and settlement services at CSS, said the current level of need in the province is unprecedented. The organization is set up to serve around 500 refugees a year, but is currently running three times its capacity, she explains.
In addition to the pledge to help settle people fleeing the Taliban in Afghanistan, Friesen said the Russian invasion of Ukraine has led to more refugees needing significant support through services such as intercultural advice and temporary accommodation.
“We expect the high number of refugees arriving in our community to continue as we strive to reach the target of 40,000 Afghan refugees and continue to resettle refugees from other parts of the world,” Friesen added.
The organization’s resources are stretched by the increased needs of different groups across the province, said Troy Davies, CEO of CSS, and this year’s annual Sign of Hope campaign is looking for a half- million more than last year, for a total of $2.6 million.
“I don’t know if there have been many situations that have matched the need we have right now, given the economic situation in Alberta, given the various refugee crises around the world,” Davies said. .
The money raised will be used to help several vulnerable populations in the province, he said, including people who have recently left homelessness, isolated seniors, women and children fleeing domestic violence and newcomers. like Attaiee and his family.
The journey was difficult, Attaiee said, but the support of CSS and the Government of Canada helped her and her group settle in Canada and begin to heal and build lives with more possibilities. than they would have at home.
“Here, every morning instead of hearing sounds of bombs, sounds of gunfire, I hear the sounds of birdsong.”
“And I’m free to learn here.”
With files from Joe Scarpelli of CTV News Edmonton