Refugees fleeing the Taliban in Afghanistan stayed in a long hotel in Calgary.

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

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

Ahmadi is a former interpreter for the Canadian Army and now serves with the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society (CCIS).

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

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Ahmadi now helps new refugees at a hotel in Calgary, which is currently home to more than 300 refugees from Afghanistan.

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Before getting permanent housing, Ahmadi and his family were in a hotel for about 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 housing is longer than usual,” said Fariborz Birjandian, chief executive officer of the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society. “We don’t want to do that because it’s not a good idea for anyone to keep them for more than four or five weeks.”

He said the extended hotel stay is a result of paperwork that needs to be done before newcomers can find permanent homes.

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

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

“They are now on average longer than about six weeks and we are trying to reduce that time,” Birjandian said.

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About 1,600 Afghan refugees have settled in Calgary since the Taliban came to power.

“We should be happy for what Canada has done. I think we should celebrate what we have been able to do.

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Employees at the Center for Newcomers say an increase in the number of people coming to Canada from dangerous conditions has put pressure on services.

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

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

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

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Hila Jaberkhel came to Calgary from Afghanistan in 2012.

She works for the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society which helps other refugees. She is concerned about her sister, who still lives in Afghanistan, and wishes she could come to Canada.

“It is tough for them because they hoped to find peace and a job and get their education. They hoped for a bright future for their children. But now that I am talking to them, they are disappointed,” Jaberkhel said .

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

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The Ahmadi Government, the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society and local churches are grateful for their support.

“Their support is unforgettable,” Ahmadi said. “Something that was very effective and helpful to me was a group of volunteers from Canada. They were eight people working for two churches.

“The Calgary Catholic Immigration Society has been instrumental in settling the refugees here. They prepared the house for us and they prepared the clothes and the food, everything,” Ahmadi said.

More than 16,000 Afghan refugees have arrived in Canada since last August and many more await.

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

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