Afghan refugees say they feel abandoned by local agency

WATERLOO REGION – Afghan refugees staying at a Waterloo motel are frustrated by the lack of support from the Waterloo Region Reception House, the local agency responsible for resettling government-assisted refugees in the region .

Sayed Salahuddin and his family arrived in Canada from Afghanistan in early September as one of hundreds of Afghans who were evacuated when the Taliban regained control.

He first landed in Toronto and was transferred to the Comfort Inn in Waterloo – where many other Afghan families were also temporarily staying – in mid-October.

But he and other Afghan families living in the motel feel abandoned and rely on neighbors in the area for donations such as groceries, clothes and toys.

The rooms were only recently cleaned, and families were not given any cleaning supplies or equipment to clean their own rooms. They cannot prepare meals in the motel and many still do not have winter clothing.

“We don’t expect miracles, but we don’t think the refugees here (Region of Waterloo) are being treated well,” said Salahuddin.

“We don’t want to give the impression that we are not grateful. We are very grateful to the Canadian government, but Reception House is not very efficient at communicating with us and they are not quick to give us answers.

Lynne Griffiths-Fulton, Acting CEO of Reception House, said she was aware of the concerns of Afghan families, but the agency has limited funds and capacity.

“I think one of the key issues here is that due to the influx, the number of people we’re working with right now, the staff are available, but they might not be as available as the people would like it, ”she said.

The federally-funded agency was supposed to welcome 352 refugees this year and has already received double that amount since January and has been asked to anticipate more arrivals next month.

Salahuddin said there were times when his family, and others staying temporarily at the motel, could not reach the staff at the foster home for immediate needs like winter boots.

Last week, Salahuddin took her toddler to a doctor’s appointment just after the area was hit by more snowfall. Her son had no winter boots, only running shoes, and his feet were soaked within minutes.

“If they hadn’t promised us winter clothes, that’s another thing,” said Salahuddin.

“We don’t want to sound like we’re complaining, but we know that they (Reception House) are handling government money. It seems they are not ready to accept so many refugees.

He said he believes the reception house is poorly run because staff have not been able to meet basic needs and listen to the concerns of Afghan families who have been living in motel rooms since. weeks.

“We know from our discussions with other Afghans that this is not happening elsewhere,” said Salahuddin.

In Ottawa, Salahuddin spoke to Afghan refugees living in motels whose rooms are cleaned regularly and meals are delivered to them because they are unable to cook. But Salahuddin and others at the Comfort Inn only receive a daily meal allowance, which he says is not enough to feed entire families.

People who live around the Comfort Inn in Waterloo’s Lincoln Heights neighborhood first encountered Afghan families in Moses Springer Park several weeks ago, said Linda Drouin, one of the neighbors.

Since then, they have become comfortable with each other and the ad hoc neighborhood group has asked the families what they need.

Drouin coordinated the piles of donations that started appearing on his doorstep. She drew up forms to be filled out by refugee families and the neighborhood got together to collect the requested items.

Drouin said families have asked for face towels, sewing machines, pencils, fresh produce, sidewalk chalk for the kids and everything in between.

“Now these families have become like my children. I can’t ignore them, ”Drouin said.

Her living room is full of donations from neighbors, and she spends her days sorting them out and associating them with families in need.

Drouin said she and her neighbors are happy to help, but that she is also frustrated that an ad hoc neighborhood group is doing what the reception house should do: help refugees meet their basic needs. .

Drouin said motel staff and foster home staff asked her to leave the Comfort Inn property, even though families invited her to drop in donations.

Griffiths-Fulton, said she believed there was a misunderstanding between neighbors and staff.

“We are very happy to work with people. If you invite someone, that’s okay, ”she said.

But Griffiths-Fulton said the agency is responsible for the safety of the refugees it supports, which is why it hopes visitors will check in with staff when they are there.

The reception house is currently collecting donations for winter clothes and boots for the refugees, and said it always welcomes help from the community.

Since August, the Reception House has received 200 people from Afghanistan and 100 others from other parts of the world thanks to the government-supported refugee program.

The Reception Center has been supporting government-assisted refugees in the region for over 35 years.

Government-assisted refugees are temporarily accommodated in two local hotels as well as two accommodation sites operated by the reception house until the agency finds permanent accommodation for the families.

“We try as much as possible under the circumstances with a fairly limited staffing capacity to really try to cover everyone’s needs,” Griffiths-Fulton said.

She said the agency understands that hotel rooms are not ideal for extended stays and that the amount of financial assistance does not go as far as it could if families could cook their own meals. She said the agency is looking for another place to house the refugees where they will have kitchen facilities to use.

The housing crisis and pandemic have created additional challenges in trying to resettle refugees quickly, Griffiths-Fulton said.

And the government’s swift move to get Afghans out of the country created a very different situation than the region was hosting hundreds of Syrian refugees, Griffiths-Fulton said.

“Unlike Syria, people come with different through different channels. So some people arrive without any documents because they’ve basically taken any plane, any flight they can, ”she said.

This has caused delays in helping people register for benefits and permanent residence, she said.

About half of the Afghan refugees who have arrived in the Waterloo region have found accommodation, and she said the reception house is always looking for landlords who have affordable accommodation available close to public transportation.

“I know there are definitely challenges. But long term solutions are what we’re working on to make sure people have better lives here in Canada, ”said Griffiths-Fulton.

Reception House said if there are owners who have affordable units available near public transportation, please contact them at [email protected]

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