Family finally arrives in Edmonton after long journey from Afghanistan


The family spent nearly a year in Pakistan as they waited on approvals to finally come to Canada. (Submitted by Spencer Sekyer)

An Afghan family is spending their first winter in Edmonton after a harrowing escape from the Taliban and a long wait in Pakistan.

Naveed, his wife and three children made the overland crossing from Kabul to Islamabad, Pakistan's capital city, in December 2021. They spent the next 11 months in safe houses, fearful of being sent back to Afghanistan by authorities.

"Now it's like you're free out of jail," Naveed said in an interview earlier this month.

CBC has agreed to withhold the family's last name because they fear reprisal against family members still in Afghanistan.

When they were still there Naveed's wife, Mashala — a teacher at a school that taught girls — was the target of violence.

A member of the Taliban threw boiling water on her face as she was leaving the school. The family then began receiving death threats.

The family's long journey to Canada could have started earlier than it did. But in August 2021, they were witness to the deadly chaos at the Kabul airport as they waited to board a plane.

Their plans fell through and for months they went into hiding, fearing for their lives.

After a long slog through government bureaucracy while they were in Pakistan, the family was able to finally board a plane to Canada last month. A new baby boy, born in August, joined them.

The family arrived in Edmonton in November and now live in a condo on the city's south side. They've already gone to see Santa Claus as a family.

They are still settling into their lives: the children are in school while Naveed, who was a human rights lawyer in his home country, is looking for work.

Despite arriving in the middle of winter, Naveed said the cold doesn't bother him at all.

"When you feel free, cold doesn't mean [anything] for you," Naveed said. "If it's close to –50 or close to –200, I don't care because I feel free.

"When you're … free, weather conditions don't matter for you but if you are in a dangerous situation even the best weather you cannot feel better."


Naveed and his family had to go into hiding for months as they sought a way to get out of Afghanistan. (Submitted by Spencer Sekyer)

Help from abroad

Throughout the journey, the family has been helped by Spencer Sekyer. The former Sherwood Park teacher met the couple while he was teaching at a school in Kabul where they worked.

"I never lost faith that it would happen," Sekyer said of their eventual arrival in Canada.

After the Taliban regained control of Afghanistan in August 2021, Sekyer flew to the country to try to help the family.

He said that at one point, he was pulled out of a car at gunpoint and saved by Naveed, who defused the situation.

"You're like, 'I don't know how this is going to end.' And so now when you say what's it like, I'm sitting with Naveed in a bank, getting his bank account set up, and I look over and it all comes flooding in.

"And I can't believe we're finally here."

Sekyer said a long list of people have helped make this possible, including a benefactor in B.C. who offered to pay for the family's flight. He said help also came from officials with the immigration department, the Mennonite Central Committee and even his son's hockey team, which raised $32,000.

"It's just made me so proud to be part of this whole process and part of our society of Canadians."

Sekyer said Naveed and his family came as privately-sponsored immigrants because it was believed to be faster than going through the refugee process.

According to the federal government, a total of 26,735 people have arrived in Canada since the Taliban regained control of Afghanistan in August 2021.

Canada has committed to resettling at least 40,000 Afghan nationals by the end of 2023.

More than half that commitment is dedicated to a Special Immigration Measures program — 18,000 spaces for people who closely assisted the government and their families, and 5,000 spaces for the extended family members of interpreters who came to Canada under earlier programs.


by Stephen Cook

scalabrinian spirituality 2023


27 Carmine Street
New York, NY 10014
646-998-4625 (fax)
Contact page
Provincial Administration
Privacy Policy