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Samira Nemati told The Globe and Mail she was elated to be moving to Canada but has yet to see the official paperwork and doesn’t even know which city she will be moving to.Handout

As judges and prosecutors, they put some of Afghanistan’s most infamous criminals and terrorists behind bars. But in August, when Kabul fell to the Taliban, they had to flee the country to save their lives.

Now in Greece, 55 women and their families (about 200 people in total) have been assured by their sponsors that Canada will take them, but like thousands of other Afghans stuck in third countries – or worse, in hiding back home – they must wait for their resettlement applications to be approved.

In Athens, Samira Nemati, 30, from Afghanistan’s northern Faryab province, told The Globe and Mail she was elated to be moving to Canada but has yet to see the official paperwork and doesn’t even know which city she will be moving to.

“It is good news, finally. After four months, I feel a little relaxed,” she said. “We have been told we are approved but still not sure when we will fly to Canada.”

Afghanistan has long ranked as the world’s worst place for women, according to the United Nations and other organizations that conduct gender-related surveys. With the Taliban reclaiming control of the capital, the situation for women has rapidly deteriorated. Thousands of female government employees have been sent home, schools are closed to girls and the women’s ministry has been shuttered.

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To make matters worse, as the Taliban gradually took control of the provinces and made their way to Kabul, thousands of prisoners were freed from jails, including high-profile Taliban leaders, heroin traffickers and violent criminals. This compounded the danger for women working in the country’s courts.

The International Bar Association, or IBA, which had worked in Afghanistan to help professionalize its legal community, hired two charter flights in September and October and flew 481 Afghans to Georgia before continuing on to Greece.

IBA director Helena Kennedy said in a phone interview from London that the female legal community is the most vulnerable in Afghanistan now that the Taliban are back in control.

“These young women were jailing criminals in the narcotics trade that funded the Taliban. They established women’s courts to reduce violence against women. They were casting judgment over men,” she said. “They are now at the top of Taliban kill lists because of this.”

Ms. Kennedy said the evacuation effort could not have happened without the support of philanthropists, including a Canadian couple. She said the charter flights cost more than a $1-million.

“I am pleading with Canada. These young women were so courageous and faced real danger to establish the rule of law. They would be of great value to any society,” she said.

Ms. Nemati said her family remains in danger because of her prior duties in Afghanistan. “I’m worried because I got to safety but my family is still in Afghanistan and are threatened. The Taliban are committing dozens of crimes and have no mercy,” she said.

In August, as countries scrambled to help thousands of people flee, Greece granted high-profile Afghan women and their families temporary visas as a “lily pad” destination, a short-term home while they try to secure humanitarian visas for Canada, the United States, Australia, Britain and other European countries.

Many of the women, such as Ms. Nemati, had been in hiding, fearing for their lives until they left Afghanistan in the fall.

Boarding flights out of the country was a perilous journey in itself. They wore burkas to avoid detection at Taliban checkpoints. They deleted all e-mails, text messages or references to their legal work and contacts with international NGOs. In a way, they erased their pasts.

But while these legal professionals have been assured by the IBA that they will get safe passage to Canada, other Afghans – parliamentarians, journalists, civil-society workers, men and women supported and encouraged by the international community – remain in limbo in lily-pad countries or in Afghanistan.

Earlier this month, The Globe reported that Saeeq Shajjan, whose law firm worked for the Canadian embassy in Kabul for almost nine years, had been evacuated to Qatar with his family and is now in Toronto. But many of his colleagues and their relatives were not so lucky and remain in Afghanistan.

On Dec. 10, a 10-year-old-girl was shot dead while passing through a Taliban checkpoint in Kandahar. Her father had worked for the Canadian military, and the family had approved visas for resettlement in Canada.

Ottawa has promised to bring 40,000 Afghan refugees to Canada but has said it will take more than two years. Nearly 6,000 have been settled so far.

“Canada was the first country in the world to launch a humanitarian resettlement program for Afghan refugees,” said Alexander Cohen, press secretary to the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship. “Through the pathways that we’ve implemented, referral partners have begun referring vulnerable persons – including Afghan women judges – under our humanitarian resettlement program. A number of judges are being processed as government-assisted refugees, and we continue to explore further possibilities as we increase our commitment from 20,000 to 40,000 refugees.”

For judge Zamila Sangar, who has been in Athens since mid-October, the future remains uncertain.

“It is a frustrating wait. I want to go to Canada. But the Canadian visa process is very time-consuming,” she said.

With a report from Janice Dickson in Ottawa

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