Catholic Social Services welcomes 170 Afghan refugees to Edmonton on Friday

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The number of Afghan refugees resettling in Edmonton more than doubled on Friday with 170 refugees arriving in the city.

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Kathryn Friesen, director of immigration and settlement services for Catholic Social Services (CSS), said it is the first large group of Afghan refugee arrivals. The group includes human rights defenders and their families.

The refugees were in hiding together and wanted to flee the Taliban as a group to continue doing their work, said Friesen. They were able to flee to Pakistan and were put on a Canada-arranged charter flight on Jan. 11 where 250 people were flown to Calgary, she said.

“From Pakistan, of course it’s been taking months of arrangements trying to get them here to Canada,” Friesen said.

“It’s quite logistically challenging and then of course you throw a pandemic into the middle of everything and viable flight routes keep changing, public health orders in different states are changing, even within Canada, which can make it very difficult to bring people in.”

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Since August, CSS has resettled 118 Afghan refugees in Edmonton and Red Deer.

The Afghan refugees to date have been quarantined in Toronto or Calgary prior to coming to Edmonton. This is the first group quarantining in the city. However, Friesen said this group is different in another way.

“Because of the urgency of this group’s situation they weren’t able to get all the work done to be permanent residents when they land, which means they’re on temporary resident permits,” said Friesen.

“We need to start the work of ensuring we’re able to get them permanent residency in Canada because that opens up eligibility for them to get things like health care and other services specific for Canadian residents.”

With the high number of refugees arriving on Friday, Friesen said CSS has been working with Immigration Refugee Citizenship Canada (IRCC) to ensure they are properly resourced to do this work.

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Friesen added the community support has helped too.

“We’ve also had many volunteers step up from the community. We’ve had a very overwhelming response and people are very interested in supporting this group of newcomers.”

Following their quarantine, Friesen said they will work to set up life in Canada for the refugees. They can open bank accounts, get them social insurance numbers, look for permanent accommodation and more.

She said it’s important to create a community and sense of belonging for newcomers to feel safe when they arrive in Canada because they’re not coming from an ideal situation.

“It’s quite the ordeal to escape a country, to flee violence, to be in a situation of precarity in the first country of asylum,” said Friesen.

“Our staff here at CSS feel quite honoured to be able to walk with this group of refugees coming into our community. They’ve done some incredible work throughout their lives and they are incredible people and we get to be part of their first steps in Canada.”

Friesen said CSS anticipates more Afghan refugees will come to Edmonton over the next few years with the federal government working to resettle 40,000.

Anyone wanting to support CSS as it helps resettle Afghan refugees can donate to its Refugee Appeal fund on its website .

ktaniguchi@postmedia.com

twitter.com/kellentaniguchi

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