In order to give you some idea about the life and destiny of a refugee, I will tell you my own family story. Since my childhood, my family and I, along with millions of other ordinary Afghans experienced displacement, a series of wars, continued violence, and coped with many forms of fear and deprivation.
In 1986, when I was 17 years old, after being internally displaced, my family finally had to leave Afghanistan. At that time our options were very limited and the only way for us to get out of Afghanistan was to go to Pakistan. It took us 18 days to walk through hostile mountains and a rugged environment before arriving in Pakistan.
We remained in Pakistan for 15 years, with a hope to return to Afghanistan as soon as the war was over. It was an uncertain life, with a very limited opportunity to build a career, and to achieve freedom and full potential.
In addition to my own experiences, I directly witnessed how ordinary Afghan citizens; particularly, women and children were suffering and subject to violence. I decided to take action and build my professional career with a strong personal desire and purpose to provide humanitarian assistance to the people of my country, particularly women and children.
During those 15 years of my life in exile, I had the honour of spending over 12 years of my time serving refugees through Western sponsored humanitarian organizations. For example, I managed a 100-bed teaching hospital with several clinics that served an average of 4 to 5 hundred clients daily; it also enabled me to provide for the basic needs of 9 members of my family whom I have been responsible for.
In 2002, after the collapse of the Taliban, I returned to Afghanistan and served as a Government Official. It was a time of great hope and aspiration. I very much wanted to help the people of my country achieve democracy, transparency and respect for human rights, either through private humanitarian organizations or the government.
But, by the end of 2007, due to very complex political, cultural, and other socio-ethnic problems which threatened the lives of me and my family, I had to give up my life-long dream, profession and homeland to seek refuge in Canada.
Throughout my life in Afghanistan and then in exile, I barely managed to survive and had to make very tough decisions. But the most difficult decision that I have ever made in my life was when I had to decide to leave my home country to take refuge in Canada—a path that involved severe emotional difficulties and practical challenges. I did not choose to leave Afghanistan. I was forced to leave against my wishes. It was a question of life or death.
In Canada, I had to start everything again from zero in a very stressful situation, with limited opportunity. When I first arrived, in addition to the anxiety of waiting for the outcome of our refugee claim, I was separated from my extended family, friends, and relatives, who knew me, valued, me and cared for me; I had to leave my profession, and everything of value, including the identity I had built.
At the same time, I could not avoid reflecting on the past: all that had happened to me, to my family and to millions of other Afghans, especially women and children. Such a mentally torturing situation involves moments of panic and tough emotional difficulties. Nightmares became a new reality for me.
Now, I can see the horizon of this journey as a generational change for my children. They have an opportunity to live free from systematic fear and barbaric cultural practices. But, when I first arrived as a refugee here, no one was willing to rent a house to a stranger with 9 family members (my wife, my four children, two of my sisters and my mother) who were totally dependent on me.
I barely managed to get a 2-bed room apartment in a remote area in Surrey. We were 9 people altogether living in this 2-bed room apartment until we were connected with refugee settlement services and got proper accommodation. I remain grateful to Journey Home Community for that great support.
The language barrier was another factor that I had to deal with, as I was the only one in my family who could speak English. I had to help my family with their paperwork, until I managed to get a lawyer—whom along with staff and volunteers from refugee services in the community became the source of strength to me and to my family. My family and I love to keep that social bond, and support, and would not hesitate to extend a welcoming hand to others in the community, including newcomers.
After almost 25 years of an unstable life, moving from place to place, and experiencing many forms of violence, finally I received safety and made Canada my home. Had it not been for the generosity of refugee service providers in Vancouver, I would not be here today.
I strongly believe that the kind of service every organization provides to refugees is not only morally right, but also rationally correct, as it not only helps save the lives of individuals like me but it also contributes to maintaining and building a healthy, peaceful and prosperous Canadian society.
Such kind hearts and giving spirits can make a great difference to the lives and wellbeing of both refugees and our community.
May peace prevail for all.