'You would think that you were in heaven': Afghanistan refugees thankful for new home in Calgary

·2 min read
Afghan refugees are beginning to settle into their new homes in Calgary. (Elise von Scheel/CBC - image credit)
Afghan refugees are beginning to settle into their new homes in Calgary. (Elise von Scheel/CBC - image credit)

This Thanksgiving, 40 Afghan refugee families are experiencing the holiday for the first time as they start their new life in Calgary.

More than 1,000 refugees from Afghanistan have landed in Canada since the Taliban took control of the country this summer, with the federal government committing to settle 40,000 people.

Nassir Khanjar's family landed in Calgary three weeks ago after being rescued by Canadian soldiers. He says this Thanksgiving he, his wife and three children are grateful for their new home.

"The moment we cross the ditch and a Canadian soldier grabbed our hand, we thought our worst life has been ended," he said.

"I mean, those boys and girls, they rescued us … they give us water, give us food in our own country, while behind another wall some other people wanted to arrest us, to murder us."

Khanjar was a physician in Afghanistan and says they were forced to flee because of his work on Canadian projects.

And he says his children, who experienced the tragedy at the ages of 15, 13 and 10, still have nightmares about it.

"In a very early age, they have seen dead bodies, explosions, murders, fighting torture of people by Taliban in front of them," he said.

"After experiencing such an environment and such a situation and to come in very good hands and see such hospitality. Believe me, you would think that you were in heaven and some holy angels are moving around you."

And while they're still getting settled in and adjusting to their new life, he says they look forward to contributing to their new city.

"Of course, we would never be able to repay for what they have done for us. But we will try to be a good citizen and serve as people in this country in a very good way by respecting them, by respecting the law," he said.

He says along with starting a career in Canada, he also plans to help other Afghan families that were displaced.

"I can pass all this experience here by helping other people, by helping all those people that still are on their way."

Sheila Qayumi, who arrived in Calgary with her son and pregnant daughter-in-law about a month ago, echoes this sentiment.

She was a women's rights activist and English teacher in Kabul.

"We did lots of advocacy for women's rights and for peace negotiation … but unfortunately, the situation changed suddenly," she said.

Now that she's in Canada, her goal is to continue her activist work and help women in her community.

"If I can, to raise our voices for Afghan women that are arrested in Afghanistan. I want to have some advocacy."

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