After her husband fired a bullet into her face, Shakila was labelled a 'security threat'.

It took a miracle for Shakila Zareen to decide to flee her homeland of Afghanistan; the miracle being that she didn’t die after her violent husband shot her in the face.

Shakila was just 16 when she was coerced to marry a man 14 years her senior, by her brother-in-law. As so often is the case in such situations, her new husband was abusive from the first day of their union. When Shakila finally learned he planned to kill her, she escaped to her mother’s home. That night, her husband forced his way into the house and aimed the trigger at her head, with every intention of ending her life. He didn’t succeed.

But Shakila lost half her face when she was shot, and a baby she didn’t even know she was having.

She knew then that she had to flee Afghanistan.

“The bullet that hit me basically took half of my face off,” Shakila recently told CBC’s The Current.

“It was gone — my nose, my mouth, my eye, my teeth, my jaw. ”

In 2012, the Indian government intervened in the high-profile case, transported her to Delhi and paid for nine reconstructive surgeries in three years. Shakila was officially classified as a refugee by The United Nations, and referred for resettlement in the United States – who conditionally approved the move.

Then Shakila got the letter that would change her fate: her application to the U.S. was rejected, as “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,” Shakila told the Guardian last year.


According to The Guardian, Shakila was rejected because of the amendments to immigration policies under new President, Donald Trump, which placed a higher level of scrutiny on applicants who were not from countries that were open allies of the U.S.; for example, Afghanistan.

The rejection could also have been based on a very unfair ‘guilt by association’, due to her brother-in-law’s suspected links to the Taliban, according to CBC’s The Current. Shakila had one day admitted his connections to the police, after a particularly violent assault by her husband, hoping the information about his association would assist them in apprehending him.

But her husband had been left free to escalate the violence against his innocent wife. Even then, after the shooting, he was only imprisoned for 10 months.

Despite the many setbacks, Shakila ultimately triumphed. Her refugee status was eventually recognised by Canada, thanks to a referral from the United Nations Human Rights Commission. After years of trauma and having her hopes devastated, Shakila was finally granted refugee status by a tolerant and empathetic Canadian government.

Shakila, now 23, moved to Vancouver on January 30, 2018, to live the rest of her young but already traumatic life in relative peace. Of her new life in Canada, she’s told CBC that she no longer feels the need to hide her face, in fear of ridicule:

“No one makes fun of me here and that is the thing that has given me the most security.”

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