Refugees fleeing Taliban in Afghanistan face long hotel stays in Calgary
For many refugees fleeing Afghanistan, leaving the country last year was a matter of life and death.
« When I moved from Kabul to the airport, the airport was too dangerous because it was surrounded by the Taliban and the Canadian army was inside the airport, » Abdul Wali Ahmadi said. , who now lives in Calgary.
Ahmadi is a former Canadian Army interpreter and now works for the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society (CCIS).
« Of course the Taliban were looking for me and they are still looking for me. »
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Ahmadi now helps new refugees at a Calgary hotel that currently houses more than 300 refugees from Afghanistan.
Before securing permanent accommodation, Ahmadi and his family stayed in a hotel for almost two and a half months – in Toronto and Calgary – when he arrived in Canada in August 2021.
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« The length of stay in temporary accommodation is longer than usual, » said Fariborz Birjandian, executive director of the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society. « We don’t want to do that because it’s not good for anyone to keep them longer than four or five weeks. »
He said extended hotel stays are the result of red tape that must be completed before new arrivals can secure permanent accommodation.
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“The challenge we have is that he’s different from other cohorts.
“For example, when the Syrians arrived, they were ready to leave. With this group from Afghanistan, most immigration paperwork and health screenings have not been completed.
« They’re staying more than an average of about six weeks now and we’re trying to shorten that time, » Birjandian said.
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About 1,600 Afghan refugees have settled in Calgary since the Taliban took over.
“We should be happy with what Canada has done. I think we should celebrate what we have been able to do,” Birjandian said.
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Staff at the Center for Newcomers say the increase in the number of people coming to Canada fleeing dangerous situations has put a strain on services.
“We’ve heard horror stories where people are stuck in a hotel for eight weeks or more just waiting for particular services to arrive,” said Kelly Ernst of the Center for Newcomers.
“Keeping people in hotels and not moving them into market accommodation is probably the most expensive way to support people.
« It’s much better when we can get people through quickly and make sure people have their own homes and are self-sufficient as quickly as possible, » Ernst said.
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Hila Jabarkhel came to Calgary in 2012 from Afghanistan.
She works for the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society and helps other refugees. She worries about her sister, who still lives in Afghanistan, and wants her to come to Canada.
“It is difficult for them because they hoped to have peace, to have a job and to study. They had hope for a bright future for their children. But now when I talk to them they are hopeless,” Jabarkhel said.
“My sister was a teacher, but now she is at home. She doesn’t have a job and she’s scared because all the schools have closed. All the females are at home and life is very hard for them.
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Ahmadi says he is grateful for the support he has received from the government, the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society and local churches.
“Their support is unforgettable,” Ahmadi said. “Something that was very effective and helpful for me was a group of Canadian volunteers. They were eight people working for two churches.
“The Calgary Catholic Immigration Society has been instrumental in helping refugees settle here. They prepared the house for us and they prepared clothes and food, everything,” Ahmadi said.
More than 16,000 Afghan refugees have arrived in Canada since last August and many more are waiting to arrive.
The Canadian government is committed to bringing 40,000 Afghan refugees to Canada.
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