'Very disturbing': University of Alberta student describes escape from Afghanistan, living under Taliban

WATCH ABOVE: Aftikhar Mominzada, who is now a University of Alberta student, was stuck in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan before coming to Canada. Global's Sarah Reid sat down with him and spoke about his journey to Edmonton.

A University of Alberta student had to escape Taliban-run Afghanistan before he could begin his studies in Canada.

Aftikhar Mominzada was the recipient of the Edmonton university’s Aga Khan Global IB Citizenship Scholarship, after he graduated from the Aga Khan Academy in India in spring of 2021. However, due to visa issues, he then returned to Kabul, where he planned to stay with family until starting his 2022 studies in Alberta.

However, the Taliban then took control of Afghanistan in August 2021, after the United States withdrew its troops from the region.

“I knew the situation was a bit hot in Afghanistan, but definitely I wasn’t expecting it to go the way it went,” Mominzada said. “When I went back home, the system collapsed, the government was not there anymore.”

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Mominzada said that he was essentially confined to his home as the situation in Afghanistan deteriorated.

“It was a very traumatic situation for me,” he said.

“I have never seen that (kind of) thing before in my life. It was emotionally very disturbing, it was difficult to deal with.

“I had to sit inside the house for a couple of weeks, maybe a month, because I was afraid to get out. It was challenging.”

He said that after spending the previous six years studying in India, the unrest and violence in Afghanistan was hard to experience first hand.

“I wasn’t exposed to such sort of situations previously, so I was very much scared. You don’t want to go out (of your home), because you don’t know what (will) happen.”

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After he was finally able to get in touch with contacts in Edmonton, the University of Alberta’s recruitment team worked with international agencies to get Mominzada’s visa expediated so he could get to Canada.

“The challenge was being able to get him out of Afghanistan, to wait for the study permit to be processed, and then get him here,” said Khadija Jetha, an international recruitment coordinator at the University of Alberta.

“This definitely was a very unique and challenging situation where time was of the essence.”

Officials from the Aga Khan Development Network and Focus Humanitarian Assistance helped get Mominzada out of Afghanistan and to Pakistan, where he waited to receive his study and travel documents.

“Once in place, we scrambled to get flight tickets at the last minute,” Jetha said. “He finally arrived the first week of December, via Qatar, Toronto, then to Edmonton.

“It was a cold -20C day,” Jetha said. “Then I showed up with my (University of Alberta) Bears hoodie, and it was definitely a relief when we saw each other at the airport.”

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Mominzada said that coming from Afghanistan, which he said felt like a “no-man’s land” under Taliban rule, to Alberta gave him a sense of safety.

“Here , where everything is in place, where everything is normal, obviously I felt relief… it was a good feeling,” he said.

Mominzada was able to start classes at the university in January 2022. He said he hopes to study business and eventually aims to return to the Afghan region.

“The plan is to primarily get a good education here (in Alberta), learn a lot about business, about the economy and how it works,” he said.

“You need to have a strong leadership, a strong people, to help these things get better.”

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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