TORONTO — With Canada now having ceased flights out of Afghanistan, many Afghans fortunate enough to have been among those to escape the country now face the challenge of setting up life in a new country, often separated from loved ones who remain in Afghanistan.
All told, Canada had evacuated some 3,700 people out of Kabul by the time the final flight lifted off on Thursday, many of them Afghans to be resettled in Canada under a special immigration program that prioritizes those who assisted Canada’s efforts in Afghanistan.
While escaping from Kabul may signal relief from immediate danger, Afghans hoping to resettle in Canada face their own set of challenges, from finding housing and perhaps learning a new language, to processing the ordeal they have just been through, say immigration lawyers.
“I think one very important issue would be psychological counseling,” Djawid Taheri, an immigration and refugee lawyer, told CTVNews.ca on Friday. “These people have been through trauma over the past 11-12 days alone. A lot of these people are suffering from PTSD, anxiety, depression, and psychological services would be something that that would be definitely needed.”
Taheri said he has clients who have been evacuated from Afghanistan as well as some who are still in the country, and he and other lawyers have been busy fielding calls in recent days about the process to come to Canada.
“The community has come together. In the past 11 days, any community organization that I’m aware of is working like day and night on this topic and we have meetings with government officials to come up with ways to be able to help the people who actually make it to Canada,” he said.
He said finding affordable housing has been a challenge with early arrivals because of high rents. He said he has also been speaking with licensing professionals and people in the business community to try to secure employment or training opportunities for evacuees.
Canada launched the resettlement program in late July when the security situation in Afghanistan was rapidly deteriorating, aiming to fast-track what would otherwise be a much slower refugee process.
“Usually what happens with refugee claimants is they come here, they are vetted, security checks are done and then they are they make a claim and they can apply for permanent residence,” immigration lawyer Nilofar Ahmadi told CTV’s Your Morning on Friday.
“However for the people that have come to Canada through this program, they are already considered as permanent residents because they are already vetted, their security checks have been done, documentations have been gathered.”
Afghan families began arriving in Canada on Aug. 4, prior to the Taliban’s march into Kabul, and the earliest arrivals finished their two-week COVID-19 quarantine last Sunday.
However, with Canada’s airlift now over, the biggest concern for many newly-arrived Afghans is the fate of family and friends who have been unable to leave Afghanistan, says Taheri.
“They’re constantly worrying about those immediate family members, and that that’s going to hinder any attempt to get them on the right track, and so family unification in my opinion for a lot of these people is very important,” he said.
It’s not clear how many are currently stranded in Afghanistan, but government officials said on Thursday they had received applications covering 8,000 people.
Ahmadi said she had recently been advising clients to try to get to Canada via an alternate country if they can get to one.