Family who fled Afghanistan forging new life in Ottawa

·3 min read
Mohammad Qais Formuly, left, and his brother Mohammad Shans Formuly recently arrived in Ottawa from Afghanistan. They fled their country with nine other members of their family.  (Robyn Miller/CBC - image credit)
Mohammad Qais Formuly, left, and his brother Mohammad Shans Formuly recently arrived in Ottawa from Afghanistan. They fled their country with nine other members of their family. (Robyn Miller/CBC - image credit)

For Dr. Mohammad Qais Formuly, the experience of fighting through crowds of people at the Kabul airport to narrowly escape his home country is one he will never forget.

"Sometimes my little children in their sleep, they [are] just jumping because of the shock that they faced there," he said.

Formuly is one of about 370 refugees from Afghanistan who have recently come to Ottawa, according to the Catholic Centre for Immigrants.

He said it took his family four trips to the airport before they managed to board a Canadian plane out of Afghanistan.

'Now we are in very comfortable beds, we have sufficient food, we have the people that around us are very nice.' - Mohammad Qais Formuly

Formuly was accompanied by his wife, their four young children, his mother, brother and three sisters.

They were among thousands who converged on the Kabul airport, desperately trying to escape the country after it was seized by the Taliban in early August as the United States and its allies withdrew troops after a 20-year war.

Formuly described the scene at the airport as volatile and dangerous.

He said his fear only began to subside once the family was finally able to board a plane bound for Kuwait. They then flew to Toronto where they spent two weeks in quarantine before travelling on to Ottawa.

Submitted by Mohammad Qais Formuly
Submitted by Mohammad Qais Formuly

Now, the family of 11 is sharing three rooms at a hotel in the city's west end where they, like so many other refugees, are working to find permanent housing.

WATCH | Family settling into life in Ottawa after whirlwind evacuation from Afghanistan

Navigating new life in Ottawa

Formuly said his children, who range in age from three to 11, are struggling to understand why they had to leave their home in the middle of the night.

"I tell them that you see we were in a very bad condition, there was no water, there was no food. In addition to that we were struggling with a life-threatening scenario," said Formuly.

"But right now we are in very comfortable beds, we have sufficient food, we have the people that around us are very nice, very [hospitable] people."

Submitted by Mohammad Qais Formuly
Submitted by Mohammad Qais Formuly

Formuly was working as a general practitioner in the Afghanistan city of Kandahar prior to the Taliban's swift takeover of the country.

When he saw what was happening he began the process of applying for permanent residence in Canada, but said he was shocked at how quickly the Taliban were able to capture Kabul.

He compared the political unrest in Afghanistan to the weather he has experienced so far in Ottawa — unpredictable.

His brother, Dr. Mohammad Shans Formuly, said he has mixed emotions about being in Ottawa. He describes Canada as a country of opportunity, but he also feels sad for the country he left behind.

Robyn Miller/CBC
Robyn Miller/CBC

Shans Formuly said that because of his education, he always considered himself a future leader.

"And I promised to myself, I promised to my country that I will go back to my country and serve Afghanistan once again," he said.

Until then, the brothers say they're grateful to the Canadian government for giving their family a safe place to live, though both struggle with the heartache of knowing other relatives and friends haven't been so lucky.

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