‘We’re lucky’: first group of Afghan refugees land in Vancouver to start new life

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Mohammad’s application for permanent citizenship was processed in just two days. What has taken much longer for many Afghan refugees like him is for the shock of the war to fade.

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Seven-year-old Ali has often pulled on his father’s shirt in recent days.

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“Let’s go home, daddy,” he said, according to his father Mohammad.

The couple are among the new guests at three Vancouver hotels housing 37 Afghan refugees, among the first to arrive in Canada after fleeing the Taliban resurgence. Others, who worked as interpreters alongside the Canadian government or diplomats, arrived in the country with no effect on their previous lives. Some came to the country completely alone.

“We are the luckiest,” said Mohammad, a former employee of the Canadian Embassy in Kabul. He spoke on the condition that Postmedia News did not use his family’s real names, fearing retaliation.

Although the refugees have been put up with social insurance numbers, vaccines and bank accounts, a majority of them still cannot speak English. Mohammad is the only member of his family who can speak fluently.

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“This is just the beginning of the arrival of Afghans in British Columbia,” said CEO Chris Friesen of the Immigrant Services Society of BC, a government-funded agency responsible for refugee resettlement.

The next group of 35 are expected to arrive in Toronto later this week, Friesen said. Some will end up in British Columbia like Mohammad and his son. From there, more refugees are expected to land in Canada every few days this month.

Immigrant services have been working around the clock to prepare dozens of additional housing units since the federal government pledged to resettle 20,000 Afghans fleeing the Taliban regime by 2024.

Mohammad embarked on August 8 on one of Turkish Airlines’ first charter flights from Kabul airport with his wife, son and two other children. Seven days later, the capital he once called his country fell to the Taliban.

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“No one could believe what had happened,” Mohammad said from his hotel room. “We didn’t think the Taliban would start taking the city. We left a lot of things at home, including our house and our car.

Due to the speed with which the situation evolved, not all who arrived in Canada were admitted as permanent residents. Friesen led staff to file immigration papers for them while they were in pandemic quarantine.

For Mohammad, his family’s application for permanent citizenship was processed in just two days. However, what took much longer for many Afghan refugees like him was for the shock of the war to fade.

“These people are pretty traumatized,” Friesen said. “They are trying to figure out exactly what happened and are trying to support their abandoned family.”

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“I don’t even want to think about what it would be like if we were still in Kabul,” said Mohammad, still worried about his sister and her eight children who are trapped in the country, hiding in their homes for fear of the Taliban. military. “I keep telling them to stay strong.

What gives the father the most hope now is for his two daughters, aged four and five, who will be able to attend school without persecution in Canada.

“In Afghanistan, there aren’t many girls who study after grade 6,” Mohammad said. “The ideology of the Taliban forbids it. My daughters will have a better future in Vancouver and more opportunities to earn a good living.

Afghan families receive tablet computers and laptops from Immigrant Services so that they can participate in an introductory English course.

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Mohammad’s daughters have already started imitating the words they hear on television in their hotel rooms.

“I swear they will have better English than me in six months,” laughed the father.

As a government-assisted refugee, Mohammad is only eligible for federal income support for a period of 12 months. The federal government has also provided his family with a starter allowance to cover basic necessities while he ventures to find an affordable home.

Her ambitions for the future are to complete a master’s degree in public policy while working part-time to support her family.

For now, he enjoys visiting family members in their new coastal town.

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