BATON ROUGE — Sept. 20, 2023, was a day one mother has impatiently waited two years for.
An incoming flight from Dallas to the Baton Rouge airport brought a big part of Latifa Ekheiary’s heart back to her.
“I am so excited,” Latifa said. “I’m so happy today because today is my special day.”
It was a long journey for her and her family before Wednesday’s triumph. This part of the journey for Latifa’s family began in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Aug. 15, 2021.
Latifa, her husband Bostan Rizaye, Latifa’s sister, and the couple’s two boys were attempting to leave the country after the Taliban officially took control of Afghanistan.
After the 9/11 attacks in 2001, the U.S. and its allies pushed the Taliban out of Afghanistan to neighboring Pakistan. In 2014, the U.S. helped the country put the Afghan national defense in charge of its own country.
The United States withdrew all of its troops from Afghanistan in August 2021.
On Aug. 15, 2021, the same day Latifa’s family was attempting to leave the country, Afghanistan’s then-president left and the Taliban seized control of the country.
Bostan was a member of the Afghani National Police and worked in counter-terrorism.
“There was an order from the Taliban government to kill him on site, and it was required,” said Roxson Welch, the executive director of the Family and Youth Service Center who helped in the mission.
“The Kabul airport was too busy,” Latifa said. “The Taliban were shooting people. It was bad conditions. I was pregnant.”
Family split apart
Welch recalled the moment the family was forced to split.
“So when they finally got to an area where they could get on a plane, the Taliban saw Bostan, and there were gunshots,” she said. “They were trying to kill him, and so he drew the gunfire from his family, and she was pushed toward the plane. She refused to get on the plane without her family. They had been pulled from her hand, but she was five months pregnant, and she couldn’t move, but her sister stopped going toward the plane and went towards the boys, and she saved their lives.”
Latifa was separated from the rest of her family and made it on a plane that arrived in Baton Rouge.
The Taliban blew up their home in Afghanistan. All that is left is a large hole. Her sister, husband, and boys, who were 3 and 8 years old respectively, survived by living in caves.
When Latifa arrived in Baton Rouge, Welch and the Family & Youth Service Center met with her and made a goal to reunite the family.
Goal to reunite
Latifa’s family’s visa in Pakistan had expired, and they couldn’t leave. Sen. Bill Cassidy’s office stepped in to help the family acquire an American visa. Roadrunner Towing Owner Judy Smart stepped up to help by donating $6,000 for the visas.
“I just couldn’t bear to see some of the pictures and things I was seeing of those children,” Smart said. “Most anyone can find a couple of bucks to donate.”
When the plane landed in Baton Rouge, and her family walked through the door, Latifa expressed excitement.
“I am so excited. I see my children after two years,” she said. “Thank you for all the people who help me is here. Before I came here, I am thinking about Americans are kind people with big a heart. Today, I understand this is true. They have changed my life, my family’s life, my baby’s life. I am so happy today.”
Bostan got to meet his daughter for the first time while the young boys met their sister.
“I’m 69 years old,” Welch said. “You spend a lifetime hoping that your time on Earth matters… and now it does.”