OTTAWA, CANADA: Championed by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as the nation's first Afghanistan-born lawmaker, Maryam Monsef said Thursday she was shocked to learn she was actually born in Iran.
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The 31-year-old democratic reform minister is the youngest member of Trudeau's cabinet. His Liberals held her up as an example of the country's strength of diversity, a bright, young refugee from Afghanistan who traveled around the world, including partway by donkey, to find safety and make a new home in Canada.
US President Barack Obama picked up on this during a visit to Ottawa in June, highlighting her roots and dramatic journey in a speech to parliament. In a statement, Monsef blamed the contradiction of this key narrative that she had nurtured since entering public life on her mother, saying the information had been withheld from Monsef and her two sisters.
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Monsef said she pressed her mother about it after the Globe and Mail newspaper dug it up as part of an investigation into the family's elusive past. She said she had been "led to believe for my whole life" that she was born in Afghanistan but in fact was born in Mashhad, Iran, about 200 kilometers (125 miles) from the Afghan border.
"My sisters and I asked my mother why she never told us we were born in Iran," Monsef said. "She told us she did not think it mattered. We were Afghan citizens, as we were born to Afghan parents, and under Iranian law, we would not be considered Iranian citizens despite being born in that country."
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Setting the record straight, Monsef explained that her parents had fled fighting in their hometown of Herat in Afghanistan and found safety across the border in Iran.
After some back and forth, and the death of her father, the family eventually fled the Taliban in Herat and traveled by donkey to Islamabad, Pakistan and beyond, before eventually landing 20 years ago in Montreal, where they claimed asylum.