Refugee family shocked by violence in Surrey

The refugee family that was exposed to gunfire was left living “in an atmosphere of terror” in the settlement hotel.

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Nisar Ahmad and his wife Shukria Azadzoi arrived in Canada in May after fleeing Afghanistan in search of a better life for their five children. But the first few weeks in his new home country have been anything but peaceful.

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Disturbing encounters with drug users on the streets surrounding his accommodation, and a brazen daylight shooting outside his room window at the Days Inn in Surrey that left the car park “blood red”, have deeply shaken to the family.

“My children were discussing the murder for days,” Ahmad said.

Speaking through an interpreter, Ahmad said the family arrived on May 4 as refugees, their hearts full of gratitude and hope. The Afghan journalist, who had worked as a local contributor to The New York Times, began receiving death threats from the Taliban before the collapse of the Afghan government in August 2021.

Fearing for their lives, the family came to Canada as part of Canada’s commitment to resettle 40,000 Afghan refugees. The BC Immigrant Services Society placed the family at the Sandman Hotel in Surrey.

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There were other refugees staying at the hotel and Ahmad’s family began to make friends and become familiar with the area. Then, around May 20, Ahmad said immigration services officials called his room and told the family they had an hour to pack up and move.

“I was very surprised,” Ahmad said. “What had I done wrong? The other families were not asked to move.”

Although he questioned the decision, Ahmad said the family complied.

After quickly gathering their belongings, the family of seven was moved to two small rooms at the Days Inn near Gateway Station in Surrey.

Their first night, the pair went grocery shopping at a nearby market, but Ahmad said they were verbally harassed by people living on the streets and openly using drugs. “We were walking to the market and we had to turn around,” Ahmad said. “It was very, very scary.”

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“The hotel was in a very seedy area, there were many drug addicts. My family and I were very scared,” Ahmad said. His wife and children were afraid to go out.

Ahmad reported the security issues to the BC Immigrant Services Society and asked to be transferred.

The organization showed them a basement suite that was not appropriate for the family, Ahmad said. He said they told him their policy was to show the family a housing option, and if they didn’t like it, they were on their own.

Ahmed said he was told, “If you’re not happy, you should go find your own house.”

Ahmad quickly realized that the stipend provided to his family of seven ($1,800 a month for rent and $600 for food) was not enough to find adequate accommodation on the Lower Mainland. When he found a place in Newton for $2,500 a month, he felt he had no choice but to take it.

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On her way back to the Days Inn, she received a desperate call from her son Mansoor. Someone had been shot just outside his hotel room.

The children heard the shots. When they opened the curtains, they saw a body lying on the ground and a car speeding out of the parking lot.

The family was terrified and in shock.

“My wife and children have never seen a dead body,” Ahmad said.

Ahmad immediately contacted immigration services and asked to be transferred to another hotel. “The resettlement agent said that we would not be moved because we had already found a place to move to,” Ahmad said.

All the other refugee families were moved, but because Ahmad had already secured housing, his family stayed in the hotel, the only residents in the flat in “an atmosphere of terror”.

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“The next morning, they started washing the blood away, right in front of my children. The entire parking lot was red with blood,” Ahmad said.

The family had to spend another eight days in the hotel before their new home was available.

“I know that Canadians have generously committed to bringing 40,000 Afghans, but I would like the government to reconsider assisting all refugees,” Ahmad said. He would like to see better supports for families and adequate safe housing.

Ahmad hopes to find a job as a delivery boy, but has no answer on how he will help his children overcome the trauma of what they have witnessed.

Immigrant Services Society of BC issued a statement saying, in part, “these are complex situations,” that they were aware of the Days Inn incident but could not confirm details of individual families.

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Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada said in a statement that “upon learning of the incident, ISS of BC acted quickly by giving all families the option to move to another hotel, and also arranged a session with a registered trauma counselor.”

The government also stated that it recognizes the challenges of housing affordability and that “income supports offered to eligible clients under the Resettlement Assistance Program are regularly assessed to stay in line with rates of assistance.” local community”.

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