He worked for the Canadian Embassy in Afghanistan. Now she’s being told to move to a shelter
Before life as he knew it was turned upside down by the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, Mohammad Fahim Rahmani worked at the Canadian Embassy.
Now he is being told to pack his bags, move to a shelter in Toronto and apply for welfare.
Indeed, nearly a year after setting foot in Canada, the support he and his family have received through the federal Resettlement Assistance Program is coming to an end, even as permanent residency documents of his parents are languishing in the processing queue with the federal government. The program provides up to one year of direct financial support, temporary housing and referral to community services as needed.
« We didn’t come from Afghanistan to live in shelters, » Rahmani, 30, told CBC Toronto outside the Toronto hotel where he is currently staying.
« Everyone wants to get their papers, start their life and their own place and start their job. And the year of opportunity I lost – who’s going to pay for that? »
Rahmani doesn’t want to be on welfare. He doesn’t want to live in a government-funded hotel. But while his parents’ papers are pending, he says their lives are on hold and shelter is not an option.
« No one will help us after this »
His own paperwork has since been processed, but Rahmani says he hasn’t been able to move on and find work because his parents don’t speak English and need his help on a daily basis while waiting for processing. In the meantime, he fears that going from a government-funded hotel to a safe haven will mean falling through the cracks of a system he should never have had to navigate.
« My biggest fear is that if we leave, unfortunately no one will help us after that, » Rahmani said.
He is not alone.
More than a year after the federal government pledged to settle 40,000 Afghan refugees in Canada, it is welcome less than half this. Many are still waiting for their paperwork to be processed by the federal government. Until then, several refugees have told CBC News they don’t have a social insurance number and can’t find work — their lives on hold.
CBC Toronto spoke to two immigration lawyers about the refugee situation. One said that, to his knowledge, Afghan refugees were not able to receive work permits while awaiting processing. Another said it was actually possible.
To clear up the confusion, CBC News repeatedly asked Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada about the refugee claims. The ministry could not answer the question of whether the refugees could work while their papers were being processed.
It is shameful that the Canadian government has abandoned the procedures for the resettlement of these Afghan nationals.– Robert Blanshay, immigration lawyer
As director of housekeeping at the Canadian Embassy in Kabul, Rahmani thought he was one of the lucky ones. He managed to evacuate with his parents and sister before Kabul airport closed, arriving in Canada on August 28, 2021.
Since then it has been moved from one hotel to another, to a third, then back to the first.
Rahmani says he repeatedly inquired about the status of his parents’ permanent residency application, eventually learning that there were concerns about his father’s past involvement in the Afghan army.
This is despite the fact that he was allowed to come to Canada in the first place with documents issued by the IRCC, he says.
« My family were not terrorists. They didn’t come illegally, » he said.
Rahmani now fears his father could be deported to a country run by a group Canada considers a terrorist organization before the government resolves its backlog to consider the 63-year-old’s application for permanent residency.
« I want to work, I want to study »
Hikmatullah Barakzai, 28, came to Canada with his brother, who was an interpreter for the Canadian army. He arrived on October 10 with his young daughter and his pregnant wife, who gave birth to their baby at the hotel where they were staying.
With her now six-month-old son, the whole family still lives in one hotel room, now another hotel. There’s no kitchen, no nearby park and no answer as to how long their lives will be in limbo, he says.
« I have family, I have children. I want to work. I want to study. My wife wants to study, » he said. « Everything is stopped and waiting. But I don’t know for how long. »
Barakzai says he asked his government-appointed settlement service provider, COSTI Immigrant Services, to apply for a work permit, but was told he just had to wait for his permanent residence documents to be processed. . COSTI is a Toronto-based immigrant-serving agency funded by IRCC to provide settlement assistance, language training, job search assistance, and other similar services to government-assisted refugees and other eligible newcomers.
Rahmani says it was also COSTI who told him it was time to leave the hotel.
CBC News reached out to COSTI for comment, but in a statement the agency said little more than, « There is no family at the hotel beyond a year. »
All other questions were referred to IRCC.
In an email to CBC News, IRCC spokesperson Nancy Caron said the department is « aware that some Afghans in Canada are temporarily staying in hotels while we work to finalize their immigration application status. » .
“For Afghans with complex cases, processing will take longer as we strive to receive information and process their application,” the statement said, adding that it “continues to raise awareness of current housing issues faced by many people face working with our federal and provincial counterparts.
The ministry did not explain why refugees are limited to one year of hotel accommodation if their documents are still being reviewed, or address concerns about falling through the cracks if they do as they are told and move to a shelter.
Canada ‘dropped the ball’ on Afghans (lawyer)
Toronto-based immigration lawyer Robert Blanshay says Canada needs to be more open about why so many Afghan refugees still face a bureaucratic blockage.
“It is shameful that the Canadian government has dropped the procedures for resettling these Afghan nationals,” he said.
« They went through the most trying circumstances imaginable, only to finally arrive in Canada and kind of expire and breathe a sigh of relief to realize they have another set of struggles. »
And to those who think living outside hotels might not be so bad, he says, « There have been a lot of nightmarish stories. »
Meanwhile, as the months pass, Barakzai implores Canada to act faster so her little ones can soon have a home beyond the four walls of their one hotel room.
« We left everything at home, » he said. « We have lost everything. Now we are here, waiting for your help. »
« Please watch out for us. »