Former Afghan interpreter reunited with her family after decade apart

Maryam Sahar was reunited with her family in Ottawa on Tuesday, after being separated for a decade. 

Maryam Sahar's family left Afghanistan on one of the last flights out

Maryam Sahar, a former Canadian Forces interpreter in Afghanistan, is reunited with her family after ten years apart. (Submitted by Maryam Sahar)

A former interpreter for the Canadian Forces in Afghanistan has finally reunited with her family in Ottawa, after being separated for a decade. 

Originally from Kandahar, Maryam Sahar became an interpreter for American and Canadian troops when she was just 15 years old.

Sahar said she served as the only woman interpreter for the Canadian Forces from 2009 to 2011. She later came to Ottawa under a resettlement program for interpreters who supported Canadian soldiers and diplomats. 

She made the trip alone, chased to Canada by threats on her life and the lives of her family members. She would have to wait ten years before seeing her family again.

On Tuesday, Sept. 14, with the Taliban back in control in Afghanistan, they were reunited.

"When they arrived it was very emotional. And now I'm thinking, 'My family is right next to me,'" said Sahar. "I have to get used to it. That they're safe. That they're rescued." 

Pushed Canadian government to act 

When the U.S. announced earlier this summer it would be withdrawing its troops from Afghanistan, Sahar said she ended up pleading with the Canadian government for weeks to bring her family to Canada.

She said she's certain the Taliban would have executed her family had they not escaped. 

After Sahar left Afghanistan in 2011, she said, the Taliban kidnapped and tortured her brother, Omer Farooq Sahar, who was just 12 years old at the time. 

Sahar's brothers Omer Farooq Sahar (right) and Ibrahim Khalil Sahar (centre) left Afghanistan on one of the final Canadian Forces evacuation flights. (Nicole Williams/CBC News)

"For 10 years, I felt this guilt that he was kidnapped because of my work," she said.

"I was able to bring myself to safety, but I wasn't able to bring my brother. So when ... the Taliban started taking over the country, I was scared to death." 

Omer said he, his 11-year-old brother, and their mother waited for several tense hours while their visas were confirmed before they boarded one of the last Canadian Forces evacuation flights out of Kabul on Aug. 26.

The family then spent two days in Kuwait, he said, before flying to Toronto and beginning their COVID-19 quarantine there on Aug. 29. 

"After 10 years, it's quite hard emotionally," he said. "And now we are happy that we are together under one roof ... And so happy for my sister and proud of her for what we have done and what she has achieved." 

Plans for a new life 

Maryam Sahar is currently pursuing a master's degree in migration and diaspora studies at Carleton University.

She said her brothers are eager to follow her lead by getting a university education. Both aspire to be engineers. 

Sahar said she's encouraging them to "follow their dreams" because she understands the challenges of starting fresh in a new country.

But she's still concerned for the families of interpreters who weren't evacuated. 

"I hope the government will continue looking for other options, safe options, to get the remaining interpreters out," she said. 

"I understand their frustration. I understand their fears and their pain, because their consequences would be the same if my family had stayed behind — they would be executed." 

Former interpreter Maryam Sahar is being reunited with her mother and brothers for the first time since she fled Afghanistan in 2011. 5:47

With files from Nicole Williams