An Afghan couple who had been waiting in Pakistan for resettlement to Canada have been deported back to Afghanistan and say they are hiding from the Taliban while they determine how they can escape for a second time.
Sanaullah Azizi and his wife were walking to the hospital near their hotel in Islamabad when they were arrested by Pakistani officials. Mr. Azizi said the police demanded money from them and they didn’t have any. He said he told them they were waiting to travel to Canada. He also tried to show them a document from the Canadian government that said he was being considered for permanent residence in Canada but they refused to look at it.
He said Pakistani police brought the couple to a truck carrying Afghans to the border and his wife – who is pregnant – cried during the entire ride.
On Nov. 1, Pakistani officials began mass deportations of Afghans who were living in the country without legal documents. They had said in early October that undocumented Afghans would have one month to leave on their own. The move has been met by widespread criticism. So far, about 340,000 Afghans have returned or been deported to Afghanistan.
After the Taliban swept to power in Afghanistan in August, 2021, many fled next door to Pakistan, fearful of living under Taliban control. Many who assisted foreign governments had planned on going there temporarily while waiting for admission to those countries, such as the United States and Canada.
Some have been stuck in Pakistan waiting for resettlement for years, and others arrived more recently – but in both cases, they now have expired Pakistani visas.
Mr. Azizi said he and his wife arrived in June. They likely would have arrived earlier, but his wife’s father, who was an interpreter for the Canadian Armed Forces, was unable to retrieve his passport from the Taliban. Mr. Azizi said the Canadian immigration department gave him and his wife the okay to proceed with an application to Canada without her father, and so they agreed he would remain in Afghanistan.
Mr. Azizi and his wife have completed the security and medical checks necessary to go to Canada and were waiting for a flight.
Now, he and his wife are living with a relative because they’re too afraid to go to their home. Their neighbours know they had fled to Pakistan in the hopes of going to Canada because of their family’s connection to the Canadian military.
“We’re back in a deep depression and have anxiety,” Mr. Azizi said.
He said he informed the Canadian government that he has been deported and he received an e-mail acknowledging that they are aware and requesting information – but didn’t provide any information about how to leave the country.
A major hurdle, he said, is that he does not have enough money to purchase a Pakistani visa, which was the reason he was deported in the first place.
“The Taliban are informed about us, that we got deported back to Afghanistan and they are looking for us everywhere,” he said.
Mr. Azizi said he is urging the Canadian government to find a way to help his family.
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada did not respond to a request for comment from The Globe and Mail but previously said that it is “aware of instances and the potential threat of arrests and deportation of Afghans in Pakistan,” including those waiting for resettlement in Canada.
IRCC spokesperson Isabelle Dubois previously told The Globe that the department is doing everything it can to help, including moving Afghans approved for resettlement to Canada as quickly as possible.
She said the government is in touch with applicants and that if someone is facing the possibility of detention, or deportation, they should notify the High Commission of Canada in Islamabad immediately or have a family member do so on their behalf.
As the Taliban took control of Afghanistan after the chaotic withdrawal of Western troops, the Canadian government promised refuge to at least 40,000 Afghans, including those who worked for Canada’s military and diplomatic missions in the country. The government has met its goal but is continuing resettlement work.
Meanwhile, Afghans in Pakistan who have been waiting years for flights to Canada have been hiding, too scared to venture too far in case of a run-in with police that could end in their forced return to the country they fled.
With a report from Associated Press