Afghan refugees are processed at Ramstein Air Base in Germany Sept. 8. Canada has already taken in a number of the 20,000 refugees the federal government pledged to resettle. CNS photo/Olivier Douliery, pool via Reuters

Immigrant centre aids 200 Afghan refugees

By 
  • October 2, 2021

Resettlement agencies are working to find ways to meet the holistic needs of the growing number of Afghan refugees arriving in Canada.

Affordable housing, jobs and connecting newcomers with a supportive community in Canada are top priorities in the resettlement efforts, says Carl Nicholson, executive director of the Catholic Centre for Immigrants (CCI) in Ottawa, one of many Catholic agencies across Canada working to help families and individuals acclimatize to their new life in Canada.

Roughly 200 recent Afghan arrivals are in the care of the CCI.

“We’re interviewing them each individually to find out what their skills are and what their hopes and dreams are,” said Nicholson. “We’re working with them to create a plan of how they can realize their dreams in Canada. For example, if someone is an accountant, we’re telling them how they can become an accountant in Canada or use those skills in some other way.”

In response to the humanitarian crisis created by the recent Taliban takeover in Afghanistan, in August the Canadian government committed to resettle at least 20,000 vulnerable Afghans by 2024.

Afghan refugees in care of CCI are being temporarily housed across three hotels in the nation’s capital, as staff work to find affordable permanent housing. With a housing shortage across the country and refugee family sizes averaging five or six people, finding large enough homes within the financial limitations of their government subsidies has been a slow and difficult process, said Nicholson. All this is happening at the same time the nation is experiencing a surge in refugees from other parts of the world. 

“There are 76 million people somewhere in the world running from something. It’s a big number and our government thankfully agreed to take in quite a number of them,” said Nicholson.

In addition to hotels, the CCI is actively operating refugee transitional housing through its Maison Sophia Reception House in downtown Ottawa, a property gifted to the CCI by the Daughters of Wisdom and used to house government-assisted refugees. The CCI also operates another property in the south end of the city. With COVID-19 protocols in place capacity at these houses, which is normally at 100 residents, is down to 50 per cent of that.

To aid in the transition, the CCI runs various programs and workshops helping the recent arrivals adjust to life and culture in Canada. Programs guide newcomers in everything from language training and opening bank accounts to understanding the Canadian legal system. While children are not settled into school until permanent housing is found and the local school within their area can be identified, CCI has been setting up children’s programs in the hotels to keep little ones busy, helping them learn the language and orient to the Canadian school system.

On top of everything else that comes with transitioning to a new country, the trauma of having to flee their homes often has significant impact on the mental health of refugees.

“They’re leaving friends, family and connections and arriving in a brand new place — that’s all by itself stressful,” said Nicholson. “You add onto that that they’ve had to run because their life is in danger. Very often they leave family members behind whose lives are still in danger. We’re having conversations especially with the young people who sometimes don’t have the tools to deal with it.”

Fundraising efforts are underway to help the charity support the influx of refugees from all over the world. With the refugees on social assistance, budget for rent, food and transportation quickly runs out so the charity is always looking for ways to subsidize.  Due to COVID-19, much of the communication with refugees is taking place online via Chromebooks and while Afghan refugees over 18 years old have been loaned the devices by the Canadian government, CCI is looking for 80 more to support children under 18 and refugees coming from other parts of the world. Cell phones are also needed.

Financial donations are also going towards the purchase of school supplies and toys to assist families while they are in transition. The CCI encourages furniture donations to go towards a local volunteer-run charity they work closely with called Helping with Furniture which fully furnished 200 homes last year for people in need. Clothing donations can go towards the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.

Over the next two to three years the CCI expects to receive a steady flow of refugees from Afghanistan. The federal government has vowed to make it easier for private sponsors interested in assisting. Having a community of support surrounding them as soon as they arrive makes a big impact in terms of success rates, Nicholson said.

For information see cciottawa.ca.

Comments (1)

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Indeed Canada has really been a country with "Heart of Gold" and with open arm to welcome people from different countries, who seeks for greener pasture in their land, most especially the stranded ones. Not only that they accept them in their...

Indeed Canada has really been a country with "Heart of Gold" and with open arm to welcome people from different countries, who seeks for greener pasture in their land, most especially the stranded ones. Not only that they accept them in their land but equally provide them with job no matter how little it can carry them. What a great hospitable country.
My most special thanks goes to the Chief Shepherds in the Diocese, Diocesan councils, Parish pastoral councils etc, who took it upon themselves to source for fund from individuals and corporate bodies to sponsor the immigrants.
Thank you for intervening in Afghanistan situation for humanity sake. I pray for God's grace upon you.
To the donors and the sponsors, thank you, God bless you all.
Thank you.
Juliet Egole from Nigeria.

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