For many refugees from Afghanistan, leaving the country last year was a matter of life and death.
“When I moved to the airport from Kabul, the airport was too dangerous because it was surrounded by the Taliban and the Canadian army was inside the airport,” said Abdul Wali Ahmadi, who now makes his home in Calgary.
Ahmadi is a former interpreter for the Canadian military and is now employed by the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society (CCIS).
“Of course the Taliban were looking for me and are still looking.”
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Ahmadi is now helping new refugees at a Calgary hotel that currently houses more than 300 refugees from Afghanistan.
Before he was given permanent housing, Ahmadi and his family were spending almost two and a half months in a hotel – in Toronto and Calgary – when he first arrived in Canada in August 2021.
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“The length of stay in temporary housing is longer than usual,” said Fariborz Birjandian, chief executive officer of the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society. “We don’t want that because it’s not good for anyone to keep them for more than four or five weeks.”
He said the extended hotel stays were the result of paperwork that had to be completed before newcomers could be given permanent homes.
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“The challenge we face is that it is different from other cohorts.
“For example, when the Syrians arrived, they were ready to leave. For this group from Afghanistan, most of the immigration papers and health checks are not done.
“They now stay for about six weeks on average 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’ve accomplished,” said Birjandian.
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Staff at the center for newcomers say the surge in the number of people arriving in Canada fleeing dangerous situations has strained services.
“We’ve heard horror stories of people being stuck in a hotel for eight weeks or more just waiting for certain services,” said Kelly Ernst of the Center for Newcomers.
“Keeping people in hotels and not putting them in market apartments is probably the most expensive way we can support people.
“It’s much better if we can route people through quickly and make sure people have their own homes and are self-sufficient as soon as possible,” Ernst said.
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Hila Jabarkhel came to Calgary from Afghanistan in 2012.
She works for the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society and helps other refugees. She is worried about her sister who is still living in Afghanistan and wants her to be able to come to Canada.
“It’s hard for them because they had hope to have peace, to have a job and to get their education. They hoped for a bright future for their children. But now when I speak to them, they are hopeless,” Jabarkhel said.
“My sister used to be a teacher, but now she is at home. She doesn’t have a job and she’s scared because all the schools are closed. All women are at home and life is very hard for them.”
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Ahmadi is grateful for the support he has received from the government, the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society and local churches.
“Your support is unforgettable,” said Ahmadi. “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 played an important role in settling refugees here. They prepared the house for us and they prepared clothes and food, everything,” Ahmadi said.
Over 16,000 Afghan refugees have arrived in Canada since last August, and many more are awaiting arrival.
The Canadian government has pledged to bring 40,000 Afghan refugees to Canada.
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https://globalnews.ca/news/8961755/refugees-taliban-afghanistan-hotel-calgary/ Refugees fleeing the Taliban in Afghanistan face long hotel stays in Calgary