Kitchener man who spent months hiding from the Taliban has returned to Ontario

A Kitchener, Ont., man who was in Afghanistan working for a non-profit and spent months there hiding from the Taliban has returned home to Canada. 

Wasai Rahimi travelled to Kabul in the summer of 2021 to further his work with iHelp International, which offers basic courses and training to women. During this trip, his specific work involved training women to become tailors or seamstresses.

When the Taliban suddenly swept to power, Rahimi decided to stay in the country to try to help his former colleagues and family escape. 

“When you work for women, especially in Afghanistan, it is not good news for the Taliban,” said Rahimi, who’s executive director of iHelp and also heads the Afghan Association of Waterloo Region. 

Rahimi spent the next few months moving from location to location to avoid detection, often relying on the hospitality of near strangers. 

In one case, a man Rahimi met through work put him in touch with a cousin about 30 kilometres outside Kabul. Rahimi stayed with him for nearly three weeks.   

‘A fearful day’

After several months in hiding, Rahimi felt his presence was becoming more of a hindrance than a help. He often lacked internet access, which made advocacy a challenge. 

“I thought, ‘My stay here doesn’t help in any way. It’s better I go to Canada, and from there I advocate for them to get any kind of help,'” he said. 

Rahimi managed to book a commercial flight from Kabul to Dubai, and another from Dubai to Toronto. 

Rahimi had hoped the Canadian government would provide him with some sort of documentation to help him get past the Taliban’s checkpoints, but he said that never materialized. 

Instead, he once again got help from a friend of a friend — a man who worked in security at the Kabul airport and helped Rahimi bypass the main entrance checkpoint. 

“That was a fearful day for me. It was also a huge risk,” said Rahimi. 

Peter Eglin, who sits on the board of iHelp International, told CBC K-W he was “horrified” with how Rahimi’s situation unfolded.

While Rahimi was still in Afghanistan, Eglin said, he tried to reach Global Affairs Canada on his behalf and got nothing in return but automatic replies. 

“I was dumbfounded, to be honest,” said Eglin.

Now that Rahimi is safely back in Canada, he’s focused on pushing the federal government to help Afghan nationals who are at risk because of their connection to foreign organizations. 

So far, he said, his actions have largely been met with silence. 

“It is very frustrating … you send email, or you call and you leave message, you’ll get nothing back.”

Global Affairs Canada responds

CBC K-W reached out to Global Affairs Canada and to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) to ask about Rahimi’s experience and whether any plans are in the works to help his former colleagues. 

In a statement, a spokesperson for Global Affairs Canada said its priority is to help Canadian citizens, permanent residents and vulnerable Afghans leave Afghanistan safely, if they wish to do so. 

The agency said it has helped more than 1,500 people find safe passage out of Afghanistan so far. 

“We are working tirelessly, including through close co-operation with our international partners, to bring home remaining Canadian citizens, permanent residents and their families, and the vulnerable Afghans who have supported Canada’s work in Afghanistan,” the statement said. 

IRCC did not respond by publication time. 

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