After 11 years, a father and daughter are reunited in Calgary

Waiting at arrivals at Calgary International Airport, Bahray Zaheri could hardly wait to hug his wife and daughter.

It took 11 years to bring them to Canada.

“Seventeen minutes,” he said, scanning the arrivals board.

Bahray Zaheri and his daughter, Aesha, are back together after 11 years in different countries. The family had a tearful reunion at Calgary International Airport this week. (Monty Kruger/CBC)

“It’s finally happening!” exclaimed Sayeda Zaheri, Bahray’s sister.

As Bahray waited, 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 from Afghanistan as a refugee 11 years ago and he came with a group of refugees, all family members, sponsored by his aunt.

When he came to this country, he should have claimed his wife and daughter on his immigration forms.

Zaheri didn’t understand that until he applied to sponsor them and learned his family didn’t qualify for spousal sponsorship.

Aesha Zaheri’s cousins wait for her with flowers at Calgary International Airport. (Monty Kruger/CBC )

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.

Taliban seizure increased urgency

The urgency ramped up in August when the Taliban seized control of the country.

Peter Wong, Zaheri’s lawyer, told CBC 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,” said Wong.

“To take 11 years in my view is unconscionable. It lacks any degree of humanitarian concern,” Wong continued.

Three months to the day that Wong gave that interview to CBC, Zaheri’s daugther Aesha, now almost 12-years-old, stepped off a plane and into her father’s arms.

“I am just so excited to finally see my daughter, and hug my daughter,” said Zaheri.

“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.

“We didn’t do it on purpose. It was just a mistake. But I if you allow me I have a message for others (in this situation): 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 Zaheri’s will make new applications in hopes of making their status in Canada more permanent.

That’s a bridge Bahray and his family are relieved to cross together, from Canada, instead of from Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.

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