Before life as he knew it was turned upside down with the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, Mohammad Fahim Rahmani worked at the Canadian embassy.
Now he is told to pack his things, move to a Toronto shelter and apply for social assistance.
That’s because, nearly a year after he set foot in Canada, the support he and his family received through the federal Resettlement Aid program is coming to an end, even as his parents’ paperwork is permanently queuing with the federal government. The program provides up to one year of immediate financial support, temporary housing, and referrals to community services as needed.
“We didn’t come from Afghanistan to live in shelters,” Rahmani, 30, told ETN Toronto outside the Toronto hotel where he currently resides.
“Everyone wants to get their documents, start their life and start their own place and start their job. And that one year of opportunity I lost – who’s going to pay for that?”
Rahmani doesn’t want to be on welfare. He doesn’t want to live in a government funded hotel. But as long as his parents’ papers are in order, he says their lives are on hold and that a shelter is not an option.
‘After that no one will help us’
His own papers have since been processed, but Rahmani says he has not moved on and has been unable to find work because his parents do not speak English and need his help on a daily basis while they wait for processing. In the meantime, he fears moving from the government-paid hotel to a shelter could mean falling through the cracks of a system he never had to navigate.
“My biggest fear is that if we move, unfortunately no one will help us after that,” Rahmani said.
He is not alone.
More than a year after the federal government pledged to settle 40,000 Afghan refugees in Canada, it’s welcome less than half That. Many are still waiting for the federal government to process their papers. Until then, several refugees have told ETN News that they have no social security number and can’t get work – their lives are on hold.
ETN Toronto spoke to two different immigration attorneys about the refugees’ plight. One said that as far as he knew there was no way for Afghan refugees to obtain work permits pending processing. Another said it was indeed possible.
To clear up the confusion, ETN News asked Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada several times about the refugees’ claims. The department was unable to answer whether the refugees could work while their paperwork was being processed.
It is shameful that the Canadian government has dropped the ball on resettlement procedures for these Afghan citizens.– Robert Blanshay, immigration attorney
As a household manager for the Canadian embassy in Kabul, Rahmani thought he was one of the lucky ones. He managed to evacuate with his parents and sister in tow before the Kabul airport was closed and arrived in Canada on August 28, 2021.
He has since moved from one hotel to another to a third, and back to the first again.
Rahmani says he asked multiple questions about the status of his parents’ permanent residency application, eventually finding out that there were concerns about his father’s past involvement with the Afghan military.
That’s despite permission to come to Canada primarily with documents issued by the IRCC, he says.
“My family was not a terrorist. They did not come illegally,” he said.
Rahmani now fears his father could be immediately deported back to a country run by a group that considers Canada a terrorist organization before the government clears the backlog of processing the 63-year-old’s application for permanent residence in to take into consideration.
‘I want to work, I want to study’
Hikmatullah Barakzai, 28, came to Canada with his brother, who was an interpreter for the Canadian army. He arrived on October 10 with his young daughter and pregnant wife, who gave birth to their baby at the hotel where they were being accommodated.
Now that his son is six months old, the whole family still lives in one hotel room, now another hotel. There’s no kitchen, no park nearby, and no answer to how long their lives will be in limbo, he says.
“I have family, I have children. I want to work. I want to study. My wife wants to study,” he said. “Everything stands still and just wait and see. But I don’t know for how long.’
Barakzai says he asked his government-designated settlement provider, COSTI Immigrant Services, to apply for a work permit, but he simply had to wait for his final residency papers to be processed. COSTI is a Toronto-based Immigrant Services Agency funded by the IRCC to provide settlement assistance, language training, job search assistance, and other similar services to government-supported refugees and other eligible newcomers.
Rahmani says it was also Costi who told him it was time to leave the hotel.
ETN News contacted COSTI for comment, but in a statement, the agency said little more than, “There have been no families at the hotel for more than a year.”
All other questions were referred to the IRCC.
In an email to ETN News, IRCC spokesperson Nancy Caron said the department is “aware of the fact that some Afghans in Canada are temporarily staying in hotels while we work to finalize their immigration application status.”
“For Afghans whose cases are complex, processing will take longer as we work to receive information and process their application,” the statement said, adding that “continues to raise awareness about the current housing issues many individuals face due to working with our federal and provincial counterparts.”
The department did not say why refugees are limited to a year of hotel accommodation if their paperwork is still pending, or allay concerns that they would fall through the cracks if they do as they have been told and move to a shelter.
Canada ‘dropped the ball’ on Afghans: lawyer
Toronto-based immigration attorney Robert Blanshay says Canada needs to be more open about why so many Afghan refugees still face bureaucratic robberies.
“It is shameful that the Canadian government has dropped the ball on resettlement procedures for these Afghan citizens,” he said.
“They’ve made their way through the most harrowing conditions imaginable, only to eventually arrive in Canada and exhale a little and breathe a sigh of relief to realize they have a different set of problems.”
And for those who think it might not be such a bad thing living out of hotels, he says, “There have been a lot of nightmare stories.”
Meanwhile, as the months go by, Barakzai begs Canada to act faster so that his little ones can soon have a home outside the four walls of their only hotel room.
“We left everything at home,” he said. ‘We’ve lost everything. Now we’re here, waiting for your help.’
“Please watch us.”