Shortly after August’s collapse of the Afghanistan government to the Taliban, the Canadian government announced it would initially welcome 40,000 refugees.
The resettlement is happening amid upheaval in Afghanistan and at the height of the fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in Canada. The first refugees to arrive on Canadian soil were immediately quarantined for 14 days in one of five hotels in Toronto. They were then inoculated with COVID-19 vaccines. They are now being resettled in various parts of Canada.
Chris Friesen is the chief operating officer at the Immigrant Services Society of British Columbia, a government-funded agency. Friesen has spent 30 years helping immigrants and refugees in Canada and says assisting Afghan refugees is unique.
“What’s the difference between the Afghan movement and other movements is the fact that Canadians, particularly to the armed forces, had spent, many years in Afghanistan,” he said. “There was a personal connection to Afghans and Afghanistan.”
Friesen said most Afghan refugees left quickly with hardly any possessions, presenting unique sets of challenges for resettlement. None of the usual preparatory paperwork was completed before they arrived in Canada, he said.
During quarantine in Toronto, Afghan refugees were also given laptop computers or tablets. This allowed Canadian immigration workers to offer English lessons and children’s programming remotely for access to education.
Among the refugees is Adbul, currently in Vancouver with his family. He is not using his full name to protect relatives still in Afghanistan.
Abdul has a brother in the United States but wanted to come to Canada because of previous connections he had with Canadians.
He spent more than 45 years living in Afghanistan, and worked as a journalist based in Kabul. Working for both Afghan and American media outlets for more than 20 years, he saw the risks due to his profession given how the Taliban mistreated journalists.
“I think my life was in danger. Not only my life, but because of me, my family’s life was in danger,” he told VOA. “And that’s why I was very, I was trying too much to go out because I was in direct threat, even when the government, the ex-government was going on, I was [feeling threatened].”
Abdul arrived in Canada with his wife and children, who range in age from grade school to university. He is hoping to one day help his mother immigrate. He said he and his wife will take some English courses and other classes and will work toward becoming Canadian citizens.
“My family is safe here it is very important for me that the future for my kids is somehow defined,” Abdul said. “They will go to school, inshallah [Arabic for “if God wills”] soon and then they will go to college, [some] who were in at university in Afghanistan.”