Afghanistan’s first female Olympian urges Canada to quickly help refugees

Shortly after Afghanistan fell to the Taliban, Friba Rezayee’s phone began to light up with messages from women and girls asking for help.

Rezayee, who made history as one of Afghanistan’s first two female Olympians in 2004, now lives in Vancouver. She founded Women Leaders of Tomorrow to support women and girls in Afghanistan through educational and athletic opportunities.

“The students, the members and the athletes that we supported, were begging for their lives, begging for their safety,” he said.

“‘Friba, get me out, get me out, the Taliban are back,'” Rezayee said.

Rezayee is among several advocates working to help where they can, but said she feels lost since Canada ended evacuation efforts on Aug. 26.

“I’m very angry,” she said. “Canada and all NATO countries had and continue to have a responsibility to protect women’s rights, human rights and democracy.”

The Department of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship says in a statement that Canada and its allies have received assurances from the Taliban that Afghan nationals with travel authorization from other countries will be able to leave Afghanistan.

“Until the security situation in Afghanistan stabilizes, people should be aware of the security environment and, where possible, take the necessary measures to ensure their safety and that of their family,” he says.

The department says staff have been working around the clock to answer calls and emails from people in Afghanistan seeking help and advice. Its primary goal is to identify how many Canadians and permanent residents remain in the country and to work with partners to provide them with essential support.

About 1,250 Canadian citizens, permanent residents and family members are believed to have been left behind, Foreign Minister Marc Garneau said.

The government has also pledged to resettle 20,000 vulnerable Afghans, including those who supported Canada’s work in Afghanistan, their families, and those who fall under Canada’s “humanitarian pledge”, such as women, human rights activists and journalists.

Afghanistan’s first female Olympian urges Canada to speed up the asylum process for refugees. # Afghanistan # Taliban

The Immigration Department says 3,700 evacuees, including Canadian citizens and permanent residents, were evacuated by Aug. 26. By September 6, it had received 11,400 applications and had approved 7,100. Under special programs, 2,200 Afghan refugees have arrived in Canada.

Rezayee said she is particularly concerned about female athletes in the country.

It was a privilege to compete in the Olympics, but after her return, she faced death threats from those who believed it was inappropriate for a woman to be an athlete and had to go into hiding.

“It was a great honor, it was more than I could ask for,” he said. “But it also put me at high risk.”

Renia Tyminski, a retiree from Ontario who volunteers to teach English online with Women Leaders of Tomorrow, said a woman spent five days outside Kabul airport in hopes of boarding a flight before the American mission ended on August 31st.

Tyminski said he tried to get their help through the Canadian government, but only received an email form acknowledging receipt.

Ultimately, he got the woman’s name on a U.S. State Department list for evacuation after going through a U.S. non-governmental organization, he said. Although she had the paperwork, the woman was unable to get past the Taliban at the gate.

Tyminski tried to connect in the same way with Canadian officials, but was unable to speak to anyone, he said.

“We tried, but honestly, there was more response from the US side. I was in contact by phone, in email conversations with various organizations as well,” he said.

Tyminski said she reached out to her local MP, who directed her to contacts with the Canadian Air Force and the Department of Immigration, but only received an email form in response.

“They acknowledged receipt of my email, but did not offer any help.”

The department said it cannot provide specific details about the cases for privacy reasons and the safety of those involved.

Tyminski says the young woman is weighing her options, but it’s difficult to know what to do, especially given mixed messages from Canadian officials.

Garneau has said the government was reaching out to Pakistan and other neighboring Afghanistan to facilitate the entry of people with ties to Canada. But he also noted that the government is advising against such travel.

Tyminski said getting to the Pakistani border will require passing Taliban checkpoints and, for now, the woman is in hiding.

“It’s a lot of guesswork,” he said.

This Canadian Press report was first published on September 10, 2021.

Leave a Comment