Edmonton

Former refugee welcomes 170 Afghan newcomers to Edmonton

Earlier this month, 170 refugees from Afghanistan arrived in Edmonton. The group fled Afghanistan last summer after the Taliban took over the country after the withdrawal of U.S. troops and the collapse of the Afghan government. 

Canada is committed to bringing 40,000 refugees from Afghanistan to Canada

On Jan. 14, 170 refugees from Afghanistan arrived in Edmonton. (Submitted by Catholic Social Services )

Dozens of refugees are ready to begin a new chapter of their lives in Edmonton. 

Earlier this month, 170 refugees from Afghanistan landed in the city. The group fled Afghanistan last summer after the Taliban took over the country following the withdrawal of U.S. troops and the collapse of the Afghan government.

The newcomers to Edmonton are people who have worked for decades documenting human rights abuses and war crimes, said Hellay Naikyar, settlement counsellor with Catholic Social Services. 

"It has been a long wait, of course, for them to come," she said. Naikyar arrived in Canada herself as a refugee from Afghanistan in the 2000s. 

A former refugee, Hellay Naikyar arrived in Canada from Afghanistan in the 2000s. She now helps newcomers settle in Edmonton. (Submitted by Hellay Naikyar)

Upon arrival, the newcomers went into a 14-day quarantine for COVID-19, which is expected to end this weekend. 

"The majority of them are well-educated and speak English," said Naikyar, who is helping the group resettle. 

It can be difficult to leave everything behind and start again in a new country, said Naikyar.

"I just put myself in their shoes." 

Naikyar now works for the same organization that helped her resettle in Canada. 

"I received an enormous amount of support and help from the staff," she said on CBC Edmonton AM

"I'm grateful for that and I'm happy to pass that on." 

The Taliban

The Taliban ruled Afghanistan in the 1990s, before the U.S. toppled the regime in 2001. During Taliban rule, women were largely excluded from public life and even from attending school. Television, movies and music were banned and the country followed a strict interpretation of Sharia law, including public executions for people found guilty of murder or adultery and amputations for people convicted of stealing. 

After four decades of conflict, natural disasters, poverty and food insecurity, Afghans make up one of the world's largest refugee populations at more than 2.6 million worldwide, according to the UN Refugee Agency.  The vast majority of whichapproximately 90 percentare in Iran and Pakistan. 

Between January and September, 2021, more than 600,000 people have fled Afghanistan due to increasing violence, according to the UN Refugee Agency. 

While it's hard resettling into a new country, it's helpful for the newcomers to have someone who knows what it's like to to start a new life in Canada. 

"They are excited to see someone who can speak the language," said Naikyar. 

"I can see in their faces their appreciation." 

170 people who fled Afghanistan as refugees...arrived in Edmonton to start a new chapter in their lives. Hellay Naikyar came to Canada in the 2000s from Afghanistan and is now a settlement counsellor with Catholic Social Services.

Canadian government committed last year to bringing 40,000 Afghan refugees to Canada. As of Jan. 18, 7,140 have arrived in the country since last August. Of those, more than 300 are in Edmonton.

After quarantine, Catholic Social Services will help the 170 refugees with temporary accommodation, language assessments, arrange health care and enrol the kids in school. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Liam Harrap

Digital Associate Producer

Liam Harrap is a journalist at CBC Edmonton. He is also a big fan of fruit and meat pies. Send story tips (and recipes) to him at liam.harrap@cbc.ca.

With files from Ken Dawson

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