Shakila Zareen shot in face in Afghanistan settles into life in Canada

Shakila Zareen shot in face in Afghanistan settles into life in Canada
Shakila Zareen shot in face in Afghanistan settles into life in Canada

Shakila Zareen, who was shot in the face by the man she was forced to marry, describes how coming to Canada has changed her life.

When Shakila Zareen learned that her husband planned to kill her, she fled to her mother’s house.

A few hours later, she was alone in the living room when her husband and two other men scaled the compound walls. As they came through the door, Zareen turned to see her husband aim a hunting gun at her and pull the trigger.

It was late 2012, and Zareen’s life was shattered. Alerted to her ordeal, the Indian government flew her to Delhi and paid for nine reconstructive surgeries over three years. The UN granted her refugee status, and referred her for resettlement to the US.

In 2016, the US government conditionally approved that application. Zareen, now 21, started to hope that she would be able to rebuild her life, far away from her abusive husband.

But a year later, on 23 June, US Citizen and Immigration Services notified Zareen she was ineligible for resettlement. The reason, the letter said, was “a matter of discretion for security-related reasons”.

“I couldn’t believe it. I cried all the way home. Everybody in the street stared at me. The message made me so sick I had to go to hospital,” Zareen told the Guardian.

When the US and its allies invaded Afghanistan in 2001, it claimed the advancement of women’s rights as a central pillar of its mission.

But cases like Zareen’s demonstrate that progress remains largely in the abstract. Legal justice and protection for female victims exists on paper, but often not in practice.

“The government has not been able to provide safe environments for women, not in the home, in the street or at work,” said Fawzia Koofi, an Afghan lawmaker.

Zareen’s asylum request was denied after the introduction of new US immigration policies under Donald Trump – but previous governments may have rejected her too. “Security-related” reasons for rejecting applicants are rarely disclosed.

However, the Trump administration’s incoherent policies, including a 50,000-person cap on refugee admissions – compared with 110,000 under Obama – will block even more Afghan women like Zareen from reaching the US.

Admissions reached the 50,000 cap in July, leaving eligible only refugees with “bona fide” relationships to the US.

They arrived in Vancouver on Jan. 30, 2018.

In Canada, ‘no one makes fun of me’

When she lived in India, Zareen rarely removed the bandage she wore over her left eye, fearing ridicule.

That changed when she came to live in Canada.

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