'This is our second home': Afghan family, fleeing Taliban, reunites in Edmonton
It has been more than a decade since Beazhan Hussaini last saw his sister.
But after several challenging months trying to leave his native home of Afghanistan — a journey that saw him and his family leave the country, transit through Pakistan and have a child born along the way — Beazhan and his sister were finally reunited, this time in Canada.
"I am very excited," Hussaini told CTV National News prior to seeing his sister, Nafesa, in Edmonton. "You know, we are seeing her after 11 years, and it's not only me, the entire family, and we're all excited."
Ten members of the Hussaini family recently reunited with Nafesa in Alberta's capital. Prior to that, Nafesa had no idea her brothers, sisters-in-law, mother, nieces and nephews had made it to Canada.
"I don't know what to say about this," she said. "It's still, I can't believe they're here, they're in front of me."
With a sigh of relief, and with a smile on her face, Nafesa added, "I have no idea what to say."
It was just this past summer that Hussaini was working at his office job in Kabul, a day he describes as ordinary, when the Taliban arrived in the Afghan capital following the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the country — ending America's 20-year-long war there.
When he learned that the Taliban were close to Kabul, Beazhan said everyone in his office was shocked.
"It was like literally some seconds, everything collapsed," he said.
He says he saw Taliban vehicles, with their white flags, on the street and wondered how he could get home to safety.
Beazhan and his family tried twice to get to Kabul's airport, something thousands of others attempted to do, as well.
"My mom was about to, you know, pass away, frankly speaking. She was not able to get into the airport. There was a crowd of people," he said.
" ... Then we come back home, with no hope to be honest because everything was blocked, you know, and Kabul was crying to be honest."
Speaking in Farsi, Beazhan's wife, Basira, told CTV National News that her daughter's school had closed and women's rights had been revoked.
Because of Beazhan's high-profile human development work with a Canadian NGO and the Canadian government, Basira says he could have been targeted. The family knew they had to get out.
After hearing of the Hussaini family's story, the Canadian Veterans Transition Network decided to help.
"We've committed to bringing over people with a significant enduring relationship with the Canadian government," Veterans Transition Network board president Tim Laidler said.
"We've been trying to help primarily interpreters and their families but we've met a whole bunch of people like Beazhan who worked for Canadian NGOs and had that same relationship with Canadian government."
The Veterans Transition Network says around 9,000 people from Afghanistan have the documentation to enter Canada, but the organization needs more donations to help them do so.
On Nov. 5, Kabul safe houses offering refuge to more than 1,700 Afghan interpreters, cooks, guards and their families closed due to a lack of funding. Veterans groups had previously raised about $2 million in private donations, but said they would need another $5 million to keep the safe houses open.
Advocates have been calling on the federal government to rush those families' applications to come to Canada.
The Hussainis eventually made it to Pakistan by car. Shortly after they arrived, Beazhan's sister-in-law gave birth to a girl.
"Our family was nine, now we are 10," he said.
After a brief stay in Pakistan, the now 10 members of the Hussaini family made it to Canada safely.
The family has already been offered work and accommodations. Meanwhile, Beazhan plans on volunteering with a group from the University of British Columbia that provides mental health care for Afghan refugees.
"Even I'm thinking I'm dreaming," he said, while offering his appreciation to the Veterans Transition Network and Canadian government.
"We are great migrants, and we will remain great to this country. This is our second home, and you will see in the coming years we will do a lot of good contribution building this country together."