Toronto pledges to help resettle Afghan refugees expected to come to Canada to build new lives

Toronto will help the federal government resettle the large numbers of Afghan refugees expected to arrive in the GTA, city officials say.

City officials say large numbers of Afghan refugees likely to settle in the GTA

Families airlifted from Kabul, Afghanistan, walk through a terminal to board a bus after they arrive at Washington Dulles International Airport in Chantilly, Va., on Tuesday, August 31, 2021. (Gemunu Amarasinghe/Associated Press)

Planning is already underway in Toronto to help Canada resettle refugees from Afghanistan and city officials say large numbers of people fleeing the Taliban are likely to arrive in the GTA.

On Monday, Mayor John Tory held a meeting with leaders of community groups and agencies and the Toronto Newcomer Office to talk about how the city can "collectively step up" to welcome and support Afghan refugees. The office promotes the inclusion and prosperity of newcomers in Toronto.

"Our city will be the destination for thousands of people fleeing Afghanistan," Tory said in a statement on Tuesday.

"This is an opportunity for Torontonians and all Canadians to once again show their compassion and commitment to helping others and to work together to support the sponsorship and resettlement efforts."

On Tuesday, Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino said Canada plans to accept 5,000 Afghans airlifted by the U.S. The 5,000 are part of the 20,000 Afghan refugees that the Canadian government has promised to resettle. 

The 20,000 refugees are separate from the former interpreters who helped Canada in its military mission to Afghanistan and family members who are eligible for special visas.

Tory said he is working with Mendicino and is enlisting the help of business and community leaders to ensure the supports and resources will be in place to help Afghan refugees settle and build new lives for themselves in Toronto.

"Consistent with Toronto's values and traditions I intend to lead in this initiative which will be to the immense benefit of our city," Tory said.

"We will have more to say in the coming days but I am confident following our meeting that there are organizations and people in our city ready to help in this effort."

Toronto Mayor John Tory says: 'Our city will be the destination for thousands of people fleeing Afghanistan.' (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Don Peat, spokesperson for the mayor, said in a separate statement that the Refugee Resettlement program, adopted by city council in October 2015, will be the basis for resettlement efforts of Afghan refugees in Toronto.

The situation involving Afghan refugee resettlement is fluid and Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, a federal department, is sharing details with the city and designated refugee assistance providers, he added.

"Based on our experience assisting with the settlement of Syrian refugees, we expect that a large number of Afghan refugees will choose to settle in the Greater Toronto Area," Peat said.

Peat said that while it is primarily the federal government's role to resettle refugees, the city is working with groups and agencies that support refugees, sharing information and will ensure supports will be in place for the refugees when they arrive.

Most pressing needs will be housing, employment and mental health supports, he added.

WATCH | CBC Toronto's Chris Glover talks to an Afghan man about family back home:

Afghan man in Toronto worries about family back home

2 months ago
CBC's Chris Glover shares one Toronto man's story of heartache for his family trapped in the war-torn country of Afghanistan. 2:39

Ahmad, 26, a permanent resident who came to Toronto from Afghanistan about five years ago, said he welcomes the city's efforts and believes the Canadian government should accommodate as many refugees as possible, cut red tape, loosen restrictions on who can come, and explain how the resettlement process is going to work. 

CBC is withholding Ahmad's last name to protect his family members in Afghanistan who worked with the U.S. and who now fear reprisal from the Taliban. 

Ahmad said he and a group of Afghans are hoping to sponsor 20 families and fundraising has begun to make it happen.

"We are ready to save lives because we know that those lives are in danger," he said. "We are ready to try to help them financially and give them our time and do the paperwork."

Ahmad said he is urging sponsorship organizations in Canada to focus on Afghan refugees who need to get out of Afghanistan because their lives are in danger.

"Every Canadian can help. They can come up together like a group of five and they can sponsor a family or an individual from Afghanistan," he said.

On Tuesday, Mendicino defended the government's response to date and said Canadian immigration officials are continuing to process applications as quickly as possible in the hopes people will be able to leave. 

"Our commitment is that now, even after the coalition withdrawal has been completed, we will continue to process those applications," he said. "We will continue to express in clear and strong language that they should be permitted safe passage so they can be resettled to Canada."

With files from The Canadian Press