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‘I’m here but my mind is always there:’ Ontario woman returns home from Afghanistan

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Heartbreak and guilt are all Zakia Zarifi has been feeling since she returned to her home in Ontario from Afghanistan.

“I’m happy to see my family here, but it’s torture for me because I couldn’t bring my parents with me,” the real estate agent from Brampton said over the phone.

“It was the hardest goodbye ever, but deep down I have hope that I can bring them here.”

The single mother says she was beaten, shot at and barely dodged a bomb outside Kabul airport during the chaotic journey. All she thinks about now is helping the people left behind.

“(A) genocide … is happening right now in Afghanistan and no one is talking about it. That’s why I’m here but my mind is always there.”

Zarifi, 50, arrived this week to tears and warm hugs from her three grown children. They frantically worked to bring their mother home after the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan in August. She had gone there to try to get her aging parents out of danger.

Before she got out herself, Zarifi was critical of Canada’s evacuation of its citizens from the region.

She told The Canadian Press while she was stuck in Afghanistan that she twice tried to escape before the U.S.-led military mission’s Aug. 31 deadline, but was beaten by Taliban members and pushed away from the airport’s gates.

She was angry Canadian officials told her and others to meet at dangerous locations, while other countries helped their citizens get to military planes using safer routes. Ten days after Canadian Forces left the region, and as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau faced criticism for mishandling the evacuation, Zarifi got another call from Global Affairs Canada, she said. This time the plan was better. “They told me to be at (Kabul) Serena Hotel and then, from there, the Qatari government was in charge of taking us to the airport. We had a flight with the Qatar airline (to Qatar).” By Tuesday, she was on a plane from Doha to Canada.

“The first flight that left Afghanistan (had) all different citizens from all over the world. On the second flight … there were, I believe, 10 Canadians.”

She said others on the flight home told horrifying stories about the Taliban knocking on their families’ doors and taking their men.

“They took their birth certificates, and took them to this place. They are all vanished,” she said.

“Someone even came to knock on my parents’ door. The guy who looks after them (said), ‘No one lives here,’  and they left.”

Zarifi said her parents are a target because they are from the northeastern province of Panjshir, the heart of military resistance in Afghanistan and where her father fought against Taliban rule.

While she waited for a flight, she and her family helped other Afghans, she said.

They gave away items in their home, distributed 120 blankets and provided food supplies to 500 families. Many Afghans they helped are among thousands who are religious and ethnic minorities who worry the Taliban’s return to power will lead to oppression or death.

Zarifi recalled a similar journey she made in 1987 during the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan. She escaped to Pakistan from Kabul. Two years later, she moved to Canada.

“Afghans … a majority of them are refugees and they’ve all found a way to get out before and through significantly worse times,” said Zarifi’s daughter Marjan.

“When my mom first came to Canada, she had to walk two days, two nights to get to where she needed to go. They were being directly shot at. So she has done this twice.

“She keeps a lot of strength and says, ‘It’s gonna be OK,’ but every day we can’t think straight … Everyone just kind of moves on with life, but my mind is constantly with my family and what’s going on.”

Despite her frustration with the Canadian government, Zarifi said she’s thankful Trudeau did not forget her and other citizens.

“I just hope that the Liberal (government) do their best to bring people, because their life is in danger,” Zarifi said.

“When I moved here, I worked 20-hour days. I worked as a bookkeeper, did accounting, night shifts at Walmart. I worked hard. I made a living for myself.”

She said she prays that other Afghans will have the same chance at a new life. For her part, she plans to continue helping people in Afghanistan in whatever way she can.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 17. 2021.

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This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Fakiha Baig, The Canadian Press

Storytelling is in our DNA. We provide credible, compelling multimedia storytelling and services in English and French to help captivate your digital, broadcast and print audiences. As Canada’s national news agency for 100 years, we give Canadians an unbiased news source, driven by truth, accuracy and timeliness.

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CP NewsAlert: CFL, CFL Players' Association reach tentative collective agreement

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TORONTO — The second strike in CFL history is over.

Two sources told The Canadian Press that the CFL and CFL Players’ Association reached a tentative seven-year collective bargaining agreement Wednesday night.

The sources spoke on the condition of anonymity as neither side immediately offered confirmation.

The contract must still be ratified by both the CFL board of governors as well as the CFLPA membership but the expectation is players will report to their teams Thursday and go through an opening-day walkthrough.

More coming.

The Canadian Press

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Alberta premier Jason Kenney steps down as UCP leader

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Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has stepped down as leader of the United Conservative Party after narrowly winning the party’s leadership vote.

Kenney received 51.4 per cent support in voting results released tonight in Calgary.

He told supporters that the number is not what he hoped for and is not enough for him to continue on as leader.

If Kenney had received less than 50 per cent plus one, he would have had to quit as per party rules and a leadership contest would have been called.

Normally, leaders consider 75 to 80 per cent — or higher — the minimum credible mandate to continue leading their party.

Kenney had earlier said he would accept a slim majority, because the voting pool was skewed by last-minute members interested only in scuttling his big-tent conservative party.

“While 51 per cent of the vote passes the constitutional threshold of a majority, it clearly is not adequate support to continue on as leader,” Kenney said.

“I’ve informed the president of the party of my intention to step down as leader of the United Conservative Party,” he said to gasps in the audience.

“We need to move forward united. We need to put the past behind us. And a large number of our members have asked for an opportunity to clear the air through a leadership election.”

The leadership review took on heightened importance over the past year as Kenney was buffeted by poor polling numbers, sluggish fundraising and open dissent from some in his party and caucus.

It was also punctuated by controversy. It had already been delayed by a year when it was set for an in-person ballot on April 9 in Red Deer, Alta.

When 15,000 members signed up — five times more than expected — the party said it couldn’t handle the logistics and moved to a mail-in ballot open to all 59,000 members.

Critics said the change was made to give Kenney the edge as it appeared he was going to lose the in-person vote.

Elections Alberta is also investigating allegations of illegal bulk buying of memberships in the review. And the party remains under investigation by the RCMP over allegations of criminal identity fraud in the 2017 contest that saw Kenney elected leader.

Kenney had made it clear that the vote and open dissent had become a “soap opera” distracting the party facing a provincial election next May.

He also said that if he got the required support, he would expect dissenters in his caucus to rally behind him or face unnamed consequences.

Two backbenchers who openly criticized Kenney last year — Todd Loewen and Drew Barnes — were voted out of caucus and sit as Independents.

Backbenchers Jason Stephan, Peter Guthrie and Brian Jean — who helped Kenney found the UCP — have been the most vocal. They openly urged the premier to resign for the good of the party.

Kenney has tried to downplay the dissent by tying it directly to unhappiness over COVID-19 restrictions his government bought in to try to stop the spread of the virus.

Opponents in caucus say the dissatisfaction is also over Kenney’s policies and management style, which they deem to be top-down, dismissive and undemocratic. They say Kenney has not done enough to gain a better deal for Alberta with the federal government on shared programs.

Conservative leaders in Alberta have not fared well after middling votes in leadership reviews.

Former Progressive Conservative premier Ralph Klein left after getting 55 per cent of the vote in 2006. Ed Stelmach and Alison Redford received 77 per cent in their reviews, but stepped down from the top job when the party pushed back.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 18, 2022.

The Canadian Press

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