How this former interpreter escaped Kabul with the help of his Ottawa friend

A former interpreter describes what it was like trying to get on one of the Canadian flights out of the Kabul airport in the weeks before U.S. troops pulled out of Afghanistan.

Abdul Hakim Azizi and his wife landed in Canada weeks ago, will settle in Ottawa

Abdul Hakim Azizi is seen during one of the missions when he helped the Canadian Forces. (Submitted by Abdul Hakim Azizi)

Abdul Hakim Azizi is breathing a sigh of relief after he escaped one of "the worst moments" of his life — running from the Taliban and scrambling to catch a Canadian flight out of Afghanistan. 

"[The] experience that we had while leaving Afghanistan ... was very horrible and worst moments that we had," said the former interpreter for the Canadian Forces.

Azizi and his wife — who finished their hotel quarantine in Toronto this week and are Ottawa-bound — were one of tens of thousands of Afghans who rushed to Kabul's airport hoping to escape the country last month, fearing persecution under the Taliban.

He says recalling their journey in the last few weeks makes him emotional, enough to make him stop watching the news.

"I just come to cry," he said. "We hear things from Afghanistan. We see everything is gone and ... devastated." 

Life in danger, sleepless nights

Azizi recalled the first time he saw military tanks full of Taliban on the streets of Kabul. 

"I was just terrified and I couldn't sleep for the first two nights," he said, noting he was on the Taliban's kill list for having worked with Western forces. 

"I was extremely worried about being killed, being tortured."

Azizi, centre, is seen with Canadian Forces soldiers. Martin, a long-time friend of the interpreter, is on the far left. (Submitted by Abdul Hakim Azizi)

Tyson Martin, a former Canadian Forces commander and long-time friend of Azizi's, said when he got in touch with his friend one month ago, he was hit with a wave of fear and concern.

"It was quite obvious what had to happen," said Martin, who is based in Ottawa. "From there, we communicated every day until we got him out." 

Martin helped his friend sign up for the special immigration program to get him a Canadian visa.

Barriers at Kabul Airport

With the visa in hand, Azizi and his wife headed for the Kabul Airport, and were stopped by the Taliban at the main gate. They found the north gate instead.

"There were thousands of people rushing to the gate," he recalled. He remembers hearing rounds of bullets in the air.

After waiting 27 hours, his wife lost consciousness, so he decided to take her home and the couple got a few hours of sleep before heading back out to the airport again. 

Crowds of people show their documents to U.S. troops outside the airport in Kabul in late August. (Reuters)

"At the first gate, we convinced the Taliban that this is our visas," he said. Then they had to convince the U.S. forces their documents were real and begged to see the Canadian Forces. 

Eventually, when they got into the airport, Azizi described feeling a sense of overwhelming relief.

"I'm safe. This will be the place I may not be tortured," he said. "[My wife] was so happy and she was saying, 'Now we don't have any fear of losing your life.'" 

The couple boarded a military plane, crammed with no seats available. 

"The moment of leaving of Kabul was ... extremely sad because we were leaving our motherland," he said. "On other hand, we were very, very happy that we could save our life." 

Azizi, right, took this photo with Martin after arriving in Canada. (Submitted by Abdul Hakim Azizi)

Settling in the capital

Martin said people have been eager to help the couple, donating more than $16,000 so far and "more furniture than you could ever imagine." 

He's helping them settle in the nation's capital where he's also managed to secure some job offers for Azizi. 

"He's going to be able to hit the ground running," said Martin.

"I think I might have very, very good extreme moments in the future. So it might be bright," said Azizi.

With files from Olivia Robinson and Hallie Cotnam

Add some “good” to your morning and evening.

A variety of newsletters you'll love, delivered straight to you.

Sign up now