Refugees fleeing Taliban in Afghanistan face long hotel stays in Calgary |

For many refugees fleeing Afghanistan, leaving the country last year was a matter of life and death.

“When I moved from Kabul to the airport, the airport was too dangerous because it was surrounded by the Taliban and the Canadian military was inside the airport,” said Abdul Wali Ahmadi, who now calls Calgary home.

Ahmadi was an interpreter for the Canadian Army and now works at the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society (CCIS).

“Of course the Taliban were looking for me and they are still looking.”

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Ahmadi now helps new refugees at a Calgary hotel that currently houses more than 300 refugees from Afghanistan.

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Before obtaining permanent housing, Ahmadi and his family were in a hotel for almost two and a half months, in Toronto and Calgary, when he first arrived in Canada in August 2021.

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“The length of stay in temporary accommodation is longer than usual,” said Fariborz Birjandian, executive director of the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society. “We don’t want to do that because it’s not good for anyone to keep them longer than four or five weeks.”

He said the extended hotel stays are a result of the paperwork that must be done before new arrivals can get a permanent home.

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“The challenge we have is that it is different from other cohorts.

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“For example, when the Syrians arrived, they were ready to move. With this group from Afghanistan, most of the immigration paperwork and health screenings have not been done.

“Now they stay more than an average of six weeks and we are trying to shorten that time,” Birjandian said.

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Some 1,600 Afghan refugees have settled in Calgary since the Taliban took power.

“We should be happy with what Canada has done. I think we should celebrate what we have been able to do,” Birjandian said.

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Staff at the New Arrivals Center say the increase in the number of people coming to Canada fleeing dangerous situations has put the services to the test.

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“We’ve heard horror stories where people are stuck in a hotel for eight weeks or more to wait for specific services to arrive,” said Kelly Ernst of the New Arrivals Center.

“Locking people up in hotels and not getting them into the housing market is probably the most expensive way we can support people.

“It’s much better when we can get people flowing quickly and make sure people have their own homes and are self-sufficient as quickly as possible,” Ernst said.

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Hila Jabarkhel came to Calgary in 2012 from Afghanistan.

She works for the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society helping other refugees. She is worried about her sister, who still lives in Afghanistan, and wants her to be able to come to Canada.

“It’s hard for them because they were hoping to have peace and have a job and get their education. They were hoping for a bright future for their children. But now when I talk to them, they are hopeless,” Jabarkhel said.

“My sister used to be a teacher but now she is at home. She doesn’t have a job and she is scared because all the schools are closed. All the females are at home and life is very hard for them”.

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Ahmadi says he is grateful for the support he has received from the government, the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society and local churches.

“Your support is unforgettable,” Ahmadi said. “Something that was very effective and helpful for me was a group of Canadian volunteers. There were eight people who worked for two churches.

“The Calgary Catholic Immigration Society has played a vital role in settling refugees here. They prepared the house for us and prepared clothes and food, everything,” Ahmadi said.

More than 16,000 Afghan refugees have arrived in Canada since last August and many more are waiting to arrive.

The Canadian government has promised to bring 40,000 Afghan refugees to Canada.

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