About 300 refugees from Afghanistan are staying in hotel rooms in Ottawa as they try to secure permanent housing to begin their new life in Canada, but that search has proved difficult.
The Catholic Center for Immigrants (CCI) said housing has always been a struggle to find, but things are even more challenging with this recent wave of refugees for various reasons.
CEO Carl Nicholson said that because of the panicky way in which many of the newcomers escaped Afghanistan, they arrived in Canada with incomplete immigration papers.
Without completed documentation, Nicholson said Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) is unable to provide monthly living expenses.
“You do not have a check from the IRCC, so I can not get a landlord to rent you somewhere,” Nicholson said.
“The landlord wants to see a constant stream of revenue, and if I can not guarantee him that, then he says, ‘well you’re sweet, but come back when you’ve got it,'” he added.
Since August 23, about 370 refugees from Afghanistan have arrived in Ottawa, 91 of whom arrived about a week ago, according to the CCI.
Canada will settle 40,000 Afghan refugees
While some have managed to secure housing, hundreds more continue to live in small hotel rooms across Ottawa.
According to Nicholson, the logistics of having so many locations also prove difficult because each hotel must be equipped with an administration center that requires staff.
He ideally said that they would all be in the same building, but that is not a possibility.
“As things start to open up a little bit more, hotels have regular guests, and none of them are really eager for us to take over a hotel because they do not want to lose their regular guests,” Nicholson said.
In addition to finding housing, incomplete documentation also slows down everything else including school registration, health insurance and getting a social security number.
Canada has promised to settle 40,000 Afghan refugees after the Taliban take over Afghanistan, but Nicholson said he does not know how many are coming to Ottawa.
He said those coming later are likely to have filled out documents because they will come from countries bordering Afghanistan and the Canadian government will have had more time to examine them.
The local Afghan community is moving up
“It’s a big step, and it’s a good first step, but there is only so much the government can do, and I think this is where citizens like us can step in and help,” said Zahira Sarwar, a volunteer. with the newly formed Afghan Canadian. Support Network (ACSN).
The group includes young Afghan volunteers who want to do what they can to help refugees who have already arrived. They have raised awareness on social media and collected community donations for refugee families in need.
“To be honest, the response was very, very overwhelming in a good way. We did not even expect to receive so many donations,” said Shahryar Simab.
Simab is also a volunteer who immigrated from Afghanistan when he was just three years old. He said he and many others in the group feel a strong connection and desire to help.
“When I was talking to the kids, when I was interacting with the kids, I saw myself in them 20 a few years ago. It was something that really hit me,” he said.
Javed Sultani is an Ottawa real estate agent who has supported ACSN by helping refugee families find housing. His family is also originally from Afghanistan and he said he would help in any way he could.
Sultani said many landlords want to see a letter of employment that families cannot provide.
“We offer landlords, first and last, two or three months deposit to settle the job posting,” he said.
Sultani said there are many large families, which makes things difficult because they need a certain number of bedrooms but do not necessarily have the budget to match.