Newcomer groups will use Syrian refugee program format to help Afghan refugees

Canada has promised to re-settle as many Afghan refugees as possible — and it’s drawing comparisons to a program that welcomed 25,000 Syrian refugees to the country in 2015.

Beginning in November 2015, thousands of refugees arrived to Canada over the span of 100 days with the help of government and private sponsors.

Emad Alqitta and his family came to Edmonton in 2017 from Syria as refugees.

“I am here because it’s safe for me and my family,” he said. “We could not have any life in Syria. I worked very hard to find myself here.”

Alqitta used to own a store in Damascus, Syria, that sold roasted nuts. He had to leave that behind when his wife, four children and he fled the war-plagued country for Jordan. The desire to find similar success in Edmonton pushed him to open a small business just 18 months after arriving.

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Read more: Syrian refugee in Edmonton creates business opportunity with specialty nut store

“I feel very proud of myself… and of Canada too. I’m very happy to be here,” he said.

“I found it hard. The different language, culture, everything. But, I told myself I have to do something here because Canada supported us to come here.”

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Syrian refugee opens food business in north Edmonton – Sep 2, 2018
The Edmonton Mennonite Centre for Newcomers [EMCN] worked closely on the resettlement process in 2015.

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ENCM’s Meghan Klein said getting people settled in to their new home is an integral part of the process.

“That could be setting up a bank account, enrolling kids in school, all the way through employment-bridging programs,” she said.

“The process from when Syrian refugees arrived to when the Afghan refugees will now arrive… from our perspective, it’s very similar. It’s just on a person-by-person case.”

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Trudeau discusses Afghanistan evacuations, says situation is ‘extremely difficult’

Klein said ENCM hopes to play a role in helping people get settled this time around too, but she’s not yet sure how many refugees are expected to arrive in Edmonton or when.

“We are set up to make the settlement journey as smooth and painless as possible. We just want them to start their new lives,” she said. “It was a big deal when the Syrian refugees came to Canada. We just celebrated the fifth anniversary of that.”

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Alqitta said he was happy to hear that there were plans to bring Afghan refugees to Canada, but underscored the larger problem of a country caught once again under Taliban rule.

Read more: ‘Take us out of this hell’: Afghan refugees plead for Canada to protect their families

“We have heard about Afghanistan since 2000. Some things have been healed. Some have not,” he said.

“We are very sad for all the people [facing war], not just in Afghanistan. For the Palestinian people, for people in Yemen, for people in Iraq. Every country in the Middle East.”

In a few years’ time, Alqitta hopes he will be hearing about the success stories of Afghan refugees in Edmonton.

“I got everything when I came to Canada — four years ago — and now.”

With a file from Julia Wong, Global News

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