Maryam Monsef Came To Canada As A Refugee. Now, She’s A Cabinet Minister.

November 5, 2015

By Althia Raj |

The Royal Bank of Canada scrapped an internal limit on mortgage-loan size for immigrants in the spring to tap into surging demand for financing on multimillion-dollar houses from newcomers to Vancouver.
Canada’s newest democratic institutions minister is a 30-year-old woman who fled Afghanistan with her widowed mother and two sisters when she was a child.

Maryam Monsef is the new MP for the bellwether Ontario riding of Peterborough–Kawartha. On Wednesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau elevated her to his 31-member cabinet — making her the youngest minister and the fourth-youngest ever.

Monsef was born in Afghanistan and raised in the western city of Herat, near the Iranian border. She lost her father when she was a toddler and both her sisters were under the age of two. Her mother was in her 20s. No one knows for certain what happened to her father, Monsef told The Huffington Post Canada Tuesday in a phone interview from Peterborough.

“The most we know is he was caught in a crossfire between the border of Iran and Afghanistan,” she said.

Years earlier, before she was born, she said, her uncle had been abducted from his dorm room at Kabul University. A third-year pharmaceutical student, he was politically vocal and had been heard making anti-communist remarks on a bus, she said.

“That night, his dormitory was invaded, and he and his housemates were taken and never to be seen or heard from again,” she said. “I think that was an important wake-up call for the family.”

Monsef’s childhood was spent moving between Afghanistan and Iran.

“That is why the opportunity that I have now matters so much more. Because you can come from such a history … [and] have the opportunity to be part of the decision-making process that affects people’s lives so deeply. What a great honour that is, and what an incredible privilege.”

The Soviet invasion had ended up on Afghans’ doorsteps, and, like many others, Monsef’s family crissed-crossed the border hoping the conflict would end, she said. Her mother made a living cooking, cleaning, sewing and knitting, with some support from Monsef’s uncles.

“It’s not a dignified way of living,” the new MP told HuffPost. Her mother also taught English in their home and sometimes in a school, she added. “But that wasn’t enough to sustain her, because the Taliban didn’t support women or their education.”

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