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Afghan human rights activist Sarina Faizy struggled for a month to help her family leave Afghanistan as the Taliban rose back to power.DEE DWYER/The Globe and Mail

Sarina Faizy had barely slept in a month. The Afghan women’s activist had been trying to bring her family to Canada, all the while feeling that her hard work in Afghanistan was for nothing.

Her voice trembled as she recounted a phone call from her brother, who said they were close to a plane that would take them to safety. “They waited three days and three nights without food, just water, with all kids,” she said through tears.

Her seven siblings – who range in age from 4 to 26 – her nephew, her father and his wife are now on their way to Canada.

Ms. Faizy, 23, worked alongside Canada’s embassy in Kabul for about five years, often joining the former ambassador in videos discussing women’s rights. She also gave talks about women’s education, connected the embassy with Afghan women and worked on campaigns to encourage women to get involved in their communities. At the time, she was an elected Kandahar provincial council member.

She now lives in Washington and just completed a master’s degree in international law. But because of her work with the Canadian government in Afghanistan, her family was at risk of retribution from the Taliban.

UN human rights chief says she has credible reports of Taliban executions

Now that they have been evacuated, she wants to forget the trauma she’s been through this past month, “having the stress of losing Afghanistan, the hard work that I have done, my identity being an Afghan woman and pushing my family to get out of there. It was horrible.”

Her family hid in their basement in Kandahar for more than 20 days. After the city fell to the Taliban, they headed to a relative’s home in Kabul. “I remember that night … I was awake and keeping in touch with them, to know exactly where they are,” Ms. Faizy said.

The Taliban stopped her family on the road to Kabul, she said, and accused her brother of working for the Afghan military. Her father intervened, and after four hours they were allowed to continue on their way.

Once in Kabul, they quietly set about obtaining documents and applying to go to Canada. After paying more than US$2,000 for expedited passports, they waited almost two weeks for word from Canada’s Immigration Department.

When the Taliban took Kabul, Ms. Faizy received a desperate message from her siblings: The Taliban had begun knocking on doors, forcing young boys to join them and taking girls who were over 14.

Afghan human rights activist Sarina Faizy worked from Washington to help her family flee Afghanistan and lobbied for them to come to Canada. Ms. Faizy, who worked alongside Canada’s embassy in Kabul, describes how her eleven family members first sheltered in Kandahar and finally made it through the chaos at Kabul airport.

The Globe and Mail

“I sent an e-mail to the immigration section of Canada and I will never forget that e-mail. I said, ‘Please help my family because I don’t want my sister to be raped by Taliban, I don’t want my father to die in front of my little baby brothers’ eyes.’”

Three days later, the Canadian government approved her family’s application to come to Canada. She called them immediately and told them to get to the airport.

They had only been there a day when they saw a seven-year-old boy die because he couldn’t breathe. Ms. Faizy’s sister called, saying she didn’t want her child to die and suggesting she was going home, but Ms. Faizy encouraged her to keep going.

She said her family stood in filthy water for seven hours as they waited to show their documents to Canadian officials. Once on the other side, they sat under the blistering sun for three days.

“My little brother called me and, while I was talking to my father, he said, ‘Please send me some food. I’m so hungry from two nights I have not eaten anything.’”

She said her siblings have been sharing photos from the airport, and she was overcome with emotion at the sight of her dad, a retired member of Afghanistan’s army, looking heartbroken as he prepared to leave his home. Another photo, she said, shows her family hiding their faces on the way to the airport. And one shows them taking a selfie while standing in the filthy water.

“One of the pictures, I saw my poor father and my whole family, my little sister and brother, and how they look like beggars on the street with no hope and losing everything,” she said.

She said that throughout the ordeal she tried to put on a happy face to be strong for her family, but she had little hope. “I was talking to myself in the mirror, trying to give confidence to myself every single day.”

She said she is extremely grateful to the Canadian government and the Canadian Armed Forces for helping evacuate her family. She particularly wants to thank former ambassador François Rivest, who provided her with support. She hopes to see her family as soon as they arrive in Canada but said her Afghan passport has expired, so she’s hoping the Canadian government can help her, as she needs valid documents to travel between the U.S. and Canada.

Despite the massive relief she feels having helped her family, she said she thinks a lot about the work she did back home.

“I’m here physically, but my soul and mind are back there in Afghanistan. … I will always be Afghan and I will always fight for Afghan women, no matter how hard it is. I will always, always raise my voice and I will never let them be alone.”

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