Just before Christmas the Ashrafi family — Maluf, Nilofar, Sophya (age 3) and Bushra (14 months) — safely arrived in Trail.
Sponsored by the West Kootenay Friends of Refugees (Friends), the family flew from Islamabad to Toronto on Wednesday, Dec. 15. There they were met by Canadian immigration staff and transferred to an airport hotel for four days while the clear Kootenay skies gradually vanished and the weather forecast turned grim.
As soon as Friends volunteers heard about the four-day layover, they asked that the arrival airport be changed to either Cranbrook or Kelowna to make a successful landing more likely. However, flexibility apparently isn’t immigration’s strong suit and they refused to change the bookings.
During the Ashrafis’ time in Toronto, the team from Journalists for Human Rights, who had originally gotten the family out of Afghanistan, visited them a few times which was helpful and encouraging. As well, some of the official paperwork usually taken care of on the local front was completed during the Toronto layover.
On Monday, Dec. 20, the family was scheduled to fly from Toronto to Vancouver and then on to Castlegar, but that didn’t happen because of the severe storm.
Instead, they found themselves flying off to Edmonton, where they were supposed to change planes for Vancouver, however Vancouver airport was still in chaos so that flight was cancelled as well.
Eventually they were put up for the night in LeDuc, Alberta, while their sponsors here in the West Kootenay scrambled to see if they could come up with any other ways to get the family to Trail.
A flight from Edmonton to Vancouver on the evening of Wed. Dec. 21 seemed like the best alternative, but immigration couldn’t book an ongoing flight to Castlegar until Friday, Dec. 23 — when the next heavy snow storm was set to hit.
At that point, Friends members Kathy Moore and Tim Peacock put together a plan to drive to Vancouver on Thursday Dec. 22, pick up the family at the airport, stay overnight in Langley and then head home the following day.
On the trip down Tim and Kathy counted 33 cars in the ditch — most of them between Chilliwack and Langley. Thankfully, the pair arrived at the Vancouver airport without incident.
After meeting the family and a subsequent long drive back from the coast, everyone arrived safely in Trail on Dec. 23 at about 7 p.m.
The family is now settled into their new home and ready to start their new life in Canada.
Special thanks to the many volunteers and local businesses that have helped the Ashrafis settle in.
The Trail Times will visit the family in the new year and share their story of survival from war-torn Afghanistan to Islamabad to safety in Trail.