'It's going to take a lot to rebuild their lives': Nearly 100 Afghan refugees settle in Edmonton
Over the past two months, Canada has been welcoming thousands of Afghan refugees fleeing their country now under Taliban rule to safety.
So far, Edmonton has welcomed 88 newcomers, 20 families, to the city.
“The people who came in these groups, most of them vulnerable, were journalists or most of them were women, especially women who did not have a future in Afghanistan anymore,” Hellay Naikyar, settlement counsellor for Catholic Social Services (CSS), said.
“Many of them boarded a plane with only a couple of hours notice with only the sandals on their feet and the clothes on their back,” Troy Davies, the CEO of CSS, added.
When refugees arrive, they are placed into a 14-day quarantine where they are given resources on how to have a “smooth transition and life in Canada,” Naikyar told CTV News Edmonton.
The agency helps with language services, documentation, housing placement and even the basics like clothing to make it through the long Canadian winters.
“You start from zero,” she said. “I just put myself in their shoes.”
Naikyar came to Canada in 2004 and is very familiar with the process of rebuilding a life in an unfamiliar country.
“I just thought if I was helped, then I could pass on that too, to this group of people,” she explained.
“The first impression stays with them forever.”
'A FAIR CHANCE'
While in quarantine, Daba Berenda, the team leader at Reception House, said his team ensures everyone receives a welcome package in their room ahead of time full of PPE. He also coordinates someone who speaks their first language to ensure they understand what’s going on during the orientation sessions online.
“They’re not allowed to move out of the room and they are not accessible to anyone except the staff,” he noted.
Once the 14 days have passed and none of the refugees have tested positive for COVID-19, they’re moved out and placed into affordable housing.
However, Frank Bessai, team leader for the orientation outreach and volunteer programs with CSS, said one of the first things on their minds is, “How can I sponsor my family to come and live in Canada?”
“We’re very mindful that people have left family overseas and there’s people who are dependent on them to come to Canada,” he said.
“These folks have walked a very arduous journey and arriving in Canada is just the beginning. It's going to take a lot to rebuild their lives,” Davies added.
But, aside from wanting to help their loved ones left behind, Bessai said refugees often ask about Canadian behaviours and tend to be shocked by the country's “visible poverty.”
“That’s something they don’t think of when they come to Canada,” he explained.
Especially since a lot of newcomers will live in those areas in the beginning until they settle in.
“We want everyone to be given a fair chance,” Davies told CTV News. “We’re dealing with populations of people that have been traumatized from their situation overseas, so I think it’s critically important that Canadian people remember how our country is built on having an open heart, on creating a welcome environment for all those from all parts of the world.”
HOW TO HELP
Since most families fled Afghanistan with the bare minimum, Davies said they are looking for aid such as warm clothing, school supplies or even diapers for newborns.
“Let’s wrap ourselves around these newcomers and give them what they need so they can be set up for success in their new country.”
With files from CTV News Edmonton’s Touria Izri