Waiting at the arrivals level at Calgary International Airport, Bahray Zaheri could hardly wait to hug his wife and daughter.
It took 11 years to bring them to Canada from Afghanistan.
“Seventeen minutes,” he said, scanning the arrivals board.
“It’s finally happening!” exclaimed Sayeda Zaheri, his sister.
As Zaheri waited at the airport late Thursday night, his phone rang and beeped continuously as anxious friends and family members in Canada and Afghanistan called and texted for updates.
“Nine minutes,” Zaheri said.
“I have waited 11 years for this day, for this moment,” he continued, as the energy and anticipation inside the terminal grew.
The long wait
Zaheri arrived in Canada from Afghanistan 11 years ago with a group of refugees, all family members, sponsored by his aunt.
He should have claimed his wife and daughter on his immigration forms, but Zaheri didn’t understand that until he applied to sponsor them and learned his family didn’t qualify for spousal sponsorship.
He and his lawyer continued to work to resolve the issue, which included completing two applications — both rejected — to have Zaheri’s family join him under humanitarian and compassionate grounds.
In the early years, Zaheri was able to visit them a few times, but his last visit was in 2014.
’11 years in my view is unconscionable’
The urgency ramped up in August when the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan.
Peter Wong, Zaheri’s lawyer, told CBC News in August that no matter the circumstances, the delay in processing this case was unreasonable.
“[The Taliban] believes that the rights of women are practically non-existent … girls as young as 12 or 13 could be subject to rape or forced marriage by the Taliban. These are real fears,” Wong said.
“To take 11 years in my view is unconscionable. It lacks any degree of humanitarian concern.”
Three months to the day that Wong gave that interview, Zaheri’s daughter, Aesha, now almost 12, stepped off a plane and into her father’s arms.
“I am just so excited to finally see my daughter and hug my daughter,” he said.
“In Canada there is lots of opportunity, especially for kids. I’ve been waiting for my daughter to be able to go to school here.”
Fight not over yet
Zaheri’s sister, Sayeda, said the mistake her brother made on his original application forms was unintentional, but she also pointed out that her family came from a country with a high level of distrust for the government.
She has advice for others hoping to make a new start in Canada.
“When you are dealing with the government, always be honest. Because our mistake, it cost our family 11 years.”
Aesha and her mother, Walwala, are here on visitor visas, which carry a maximum stay in Canada of three years.
The Zaheris will submit new applications in the hopes of making their status in Canada more permanent.
That’s a bridge Zaheri and his family are relieved to cross together, from Canada, instead of from Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.