Ottawa mobilizes to welcome Afghan refugees

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Members of the newly established Canadian Afghan Support Network are collecting donations of gift cards, new and lightly used clothing and furniture to help welcome the refugees.

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Last month, a social media post about the expected influx of Afghan refugees to Ottawa raised questions about what people could do to help.

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A few weeks later, members of the new Afghan Canadian Support Network collect donations of gift cards, new and lightly used clothing and furniture to help welcome the refugees.

“They had to leave everything. A lot of kids are still wearing the clothes they walked into, ”said Navin Steele, one of the founding members.

There are currently about 200 Afghan refugees in Ottawa, with 20 to 25 more expected to arrive over the weekend. Most stay in hotels scattered around the city until they can overcome documentation hurdles so that they can rent apartments and find employment.

The new arrivals will probably be the first of many from Afghanistan. But how long that will take and how many Afghan refugees will come to Ottawa and stay there is still an open question.

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Last week, Canada announced that it would double the number of Afghan refugees it planned to accept, from 20,000 to 40,000.

The first of these 20,000 refugees includes 5,000 Afghans who worked with the Canadian military and government. About 3,700 Afghans have been airlifted out of Afghanistan and about 2,700 of them are in Canada, with Toronto as the first stop.

The remaining 15,000 of the 20,000 originally planned for Canada are now in countries bordering Afghanistan and include human rights defenders, women leaders and people persecuted because of their religion or orientation. sexual.

Arian Ahmadi (left), wife of the Ambassador of Afghanistan to Canada, and Sarah Harvey, wife of the New Zealand High Commissioner, help members of the Afghan Canadian Support Network sort through donated clothing. Photo by Errol McGihon /Postmedia

“We expect a steady and steady flow over the next two years,” said Carl Nicholson, CEO of the Catholic Center for Immigrants, an Ottawa organization that helps refugees settle in Ottawa. “We don’t know how many we’ll have. This is the challenge. This is a rapidly changing situation.

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According to Statistics Canada, there were nearly 84,000 Afghans in Canada in 2016. Many refugees will want to live where other Afghans or Canadians they know are located.

But first, they face 14 days of quarantine. They must have a social insurance number and an OHIP card. Many have only had one vaccine against COVD-19.

“Things have to unfold in a particular order. You can’t look for a job without a Social Insurance Card, ”Nicholson said.

The Afghan Canadian Support Network hopes that a donor will step forward to lend a large space for sorting and storing donations. Currently, donations are stored in basements and garages across town.

The organization is in the process of registering as a charity. Until that happens, he cannot accept cash donations. In the meantime, gift cards given by grocery chains and big box stores are welcome to purchase basic necessities such as food, basic clothes (socks and underwear are a must. ) and basic necessities such as diapers and strollers.

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Members of the Afghan Canadian Support Network, including Barin Habibi (left), sort through donated clothing.
Members of the Afghan Canadian Support Network, including Barin Habibi (left), sort through donated clothing. Photo by Errol McGihon /Postmedia

“We wanted them to be able to save their money for housing,” said Allaha Balouch, one of the founding members.

Finding apartments has been one of the biggest pieces of the puzzle. Some families are large, often with three, four or more children. So families need apartments with three or more bedrooms, which is not easy to find in a rental market, let alone today’s tight market, Balouch said.

Most refugee families will live on the equivalent of welfare – and it’s a very difficult housing budget to manage, Nicholson said.

“I would like people to keep that in mind. If a landlord wants to reduce the rent for a year until it can start, that would help, ”he said.

Balouch and Steele were both seven years old when they arrived in Canada, Balouch in 2001 and Steele in 1993.

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It was a “double shock” that families fled the Taliban twice in her life, Steele said.

“It was so hard when we got here. But it was a life changing experience. I am proud to be Canadian. We are blessed to have come to Canada and not to another country, ”she said.

Sarah Harvey, wife of New Zealand High Commissioner Martin Harvey, has heard of the arrival of refugees in Ottawa. She thought of her large empty basement and offered it to the Afghan Canadian Support Network as a place to sort and wrap donations.

“Our basement looks like a store now,” she said. “It’s nice to have the noise of workers in the house.

The Harveys arrived in Ottawa in January 2020, just weeks before the pandemic restrictions took effect.

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“When we lived in Wellington (New Zealand), we were helping a family in Damascus, Syria. We are quite familiar with the challenge refugees face, ”she said.

“Their needs are fundamental and urgent. Unlike New Zealand, they will face a Canadian winter, which will add to the challenges. Being new to Canadian winters ourselves, we know what it’s like to be ill-equipped.

A trickle of newcomers have already found apartments. The Afghan Canadian Support Network is hoping someone with a large truck to lend will come forward so families can donate furniture, Balouch said.

Although there are fast food outlets near the hotel where families stay, kids are not used to Canadian food, she said. The Afghan Canadian Support Network is working to secure deals with restaurants that prepare halal foods as well as donations of fresh fruit and vegetables.

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Hundreds of people have already indicated that they want to volunteer. But they will have to be patient, Nicholson said.

“It’s not going as fast as we would like, but we are getting there,” he said. “There is no doubt that we will welcome them. And anyone who wants to help can help. But give us a chance to organize.

How to help:

• The Afghan Canadian Support Network is looking for housing, gift cards and employment opportunities for refugees, as well as restaurateurs who can offer food drivers. Donors with questions can email [email protected]
Visit: Afghan Canadian Support Network at Instagram.

• The Catholic Center for Immigrants offers volunteer opportunities, including a program that connects an Afghan family with a family from Ottawa to help them settle in the capital, a mentoring program and “conversation circles” to help shelters improve their English proficiency and comprehension. Volunteers must register and get a police check.

Cash donations are also accepted to deliver programs.

Visit: cciottawa.ca

• Refugee 613 is a coalition of local settlement, health and private sponsorship partners with a communication hub for refugees and those who support them.

The website contained links to ways people can donate money, clothing, furniture, and housing.

Visit: www.refugié613.ca

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