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Refugee who first fled Afghanistan then Trump’s America graduates U of T with goal to help others

By Noushin Ziafati

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    TORONTO (CTV Network) — Omer Malikyar set two goals for himself when he set foot in Canada — to give back to the community he’s from and to get a proper education.

And the Afghan refugee is achieving those goals one after the other.

Back home in Ghazni, Afghanistan, Malikyar was big on community work. He and his friends created a summer camp where they taught people about their rights, how women can contribute to society and about gender equality.

But after his human rights work caught the attention of Islamic extremists, Malikyar feared for his safety, which led him to make the difficult decision at the age of 19 to flee Afghanistan and head to the United States.

“It wasn’t safe for me anymore, so I had to leave the country,” Malikyar told CTV’s Your Morning on Thursday.

However, his stay in the U.S. didn’t last long. He arrived in the country in 2018, during the Donald Trump administration, and Malikyar said it “wasn’t a good idea for me to stay” because of the then-president’s anti-immigration agenda.

During his month-long stay in the U.S., Malikyar heard his hometown was under attack by the Taliban, so he reckoned his next best option would be to cross into Canada through Roxham Road and claim asylum. And so he did.

“It was stressful for me, coming from Afghanistan and knowing no one in Canada,” Malikyar said. ”But I’m glad the whole asylum process happened smoothly.”

Once he arrived in Canada, Malikyar set his sights on pursuing post-secondary education and giving back to other Afghans.

He returned to high school to complete Grade 12 in order to be accepted into a Canadian university. When he landed a spot at the University of Toronto, he poured his energy into his studies while simultaneously mentoring young refugees.

Malikyar also created U of T’s Afghan Students Association, took part in the university’s Summer Abroad program in Germany, where he met and spoke with Afghan refugees in Europe, and attended talks at the European Union commission in Brussels to learn about that organization’s approach to migration and refugee accommodation.

All his hard work paid off this month, when he graduated from U of T with a double major in political science and Canadian studies.

“It was a happy moment for me,” Malikyar said of the occasion.

In September, Malikyar plans to continue his studies at U of T, where he’ll be pursuing his master’s degree at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy.

He’s also an active volunteer with Children Without Borders, helping children in Afghanistan receive educational opportunities, and mentors young refugees as they navigate new lives in Canada through the Afghan Youth Development and Engagement Initiative.

Although his parents couldn’t be physically present for his convocation and his other accomplishments in Canada, Malikyar said they’re happily watching him achieve his goals from afar.

“They’re so proud,” he said.

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