A ‘shining example of Canadian compassion’

A Toronto real estate developer who has worked tirelessly to help hundreds fleeing the Taliban settle in Canada, spending $ 50,000 to buy essential supplies from them, has been hailed as a “shining example of Canadian compassion” by the immigration minister. .

Wais Habibzai, who fled to Canada from Afghanistan in 1992 after his home was destroyed by a rocket, has launched a personal aid effort to provide clothing and other necessities to refugees who escaped from Kabul.

The government is providing food and accommodation to about 1,000 refugees as they prepare to resettle in Canada, Habibzai said. But he said the refugees, isolated in several Toronto hotels, lack many essentials, such as clean underwear, telephones and bottles.

Many of the refugees arrived with only the clothes they were wearing, and Habibzai has been shopping for them at Walmart.

The Afghan-Canadian businessman has turned refugee hotel conference rooms into warehouses for clothing and essentials, recruiting dozens of people to volunteer as translators and help fund the relief effort.

She has made daily trips to local stores to buy underwear, shoes, jeans and shirts, baby bottles and formula, and personal hygiene products. She has also bought chocolate, candy, and toys for children, as well as prayer mats and hijabs for some older women.

Habibzai, 40, said he is delighted to see the young refugees, who arrived in traditional Afghan garb, strolling through Toronto hotels “like true Canadians” in jeans and Canadian flag T-shirts.

“Some came with (traditional clothing). The next day they were wearing the shoes I gave them: the T-shirts, the jeans. I went to Walmart and bought them some Canadian flag T-shirts. They loved it. They walked like true Canadians, ”he said.

“Teenagers, ages 20-22, want to be modern.”

Marco Mendicino, minister of immigration, refugees and citizenship, said welcoming Afghans “would not be possible without the generosity of Wais and so many others like him.”

“As Afghan refugees sought refuge from persecution and war, Canada stepped forward. And as refugees now start a new life in Canada, Canadians are stepping up. Few embody that spirit better than Wais Habibzai. Wais is a shining example of Canadian compassion, ”he said.

Afghans-Helping Entrepreneur Is ‘Shining Example Of Canadian Compassion’: Minister # Afghanistan # Taliban

“And as a refugee himself, he is the living embodiment of Canada’s ‘intergenerational cycle of immigration’, where each generation of newcomers welcomes the next.”

The Immigration Department says it has helped 3,700 evacuees, including Canadian citizens and permanent residents, flee Afghanistan, which recently fell to the Taliban. But he has faced criticism for not helping enough to escape. His special immigration program has been plagued with bureaucratic and technical problems.

Habibzai has been visiting refugee hotels every day to find out what those who made it to Canada need. He has recruited Afghan family and friends to translate and has raised thousands of dollars to complete the $ 50,000 he has spent himself.

“I said, ‘Give me a list of what you need. I’ll go buy it: diapers, milk, whatever. One man said, ‘I only have one pair of underwear.’ They were always asking for needs like this, ”he explained.

He said refugees who had left family members were desperate to know they were safe, but often had no way of making contact.

Habibzai bought them phones and SIM cards, as well as chargers that fit into Canadian plugs, so they could keep in touch with family and friends who are sheltering from the Taliban.

He has also offered to house several desperate families in his vacant properties without paying rent for a year. But he says that many newcomers have money and are well educated.

The Toronto businessman, whose father was an Afghan national television station manager and a former diplomat, was forced to flee Afghanistan after the mujahideen, religious fighters who fought against the Russian occupation and became the Taliban, destroyed his home. with a rocket launcher.

He came to Canada in 1992 at age 14 and said his experience as a new immigrant motivated him to help fleeing Afghans. He wants to “return” to the country that welcomed him, because he remembers how “difficult” it was for him to get to Canada “with nothing.”

“My dad had to quit work and since the rocket launcher destroyed our house,” he said. “It was very difficult for my father to get a rental apartment (in Canada) because he had no credit, he did not have a job and he did not speak English. It was hard. My father was a strong man. He wanted to work, whatever it takes, whatever happens, even though he was a diplomat for years. “

Eventually his father got a job as a convenience store manager. Habibzai eventually founded his own real estate company, buying his first home at age 18 and selling it to finance his college expenses. He now builds houses in Toronto and runs a real estate company as well as technology companies in Afghanistan.

“Today I am building houses and, thanks to Canada, I was educated here. My brother played soccer professionally for the Canadian team, ”he said. “It is all due to this beautiful country. And I want to give back. “

The businessman has also been giving newcomers advice on Canadian life, including how to download apps and order pizza.

“Two things I tell you about this country are: ‘Study and work and don’t think about anything else,'” he said.

“I tell them, ‘Listen, I’m nobody. I’m just this young Afghan Canadian businessman. I came here, like you, with $ 20 in my pocket or not even that, with nothing. But Canada is the land of opportunity: you can be someone. ‘

This Canadian Press report was first published on September 12, 2021.


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