Other newcomers forgotten as eyes are still on Ukraine, proponents say

Some advocates working with refugees and newcomers to Ottawa say people have largely forgotten those who fled different countries and resettled in the region, as news headlines focus on helping Ukrainians flee war.

Earlier this month, an estimated 3,200 Ukrainians landed in the country’s capital since February, as a network of settlement agencies and voluntary groups help them get used to their new community.

Ottawans have also opened their homes to displaced families in search of a temporary place to live.

“When we talk about non-Ukrainian refugees, we are in no way minimizing what Ukrainians are going through,” said Louisa Taylor, director of Refugee 613, an agency that helps newcomers settle.

“There are people from, you know, Sudan, Yemen, Syria, all over the world who have experienced very similar things that Ukrainians have. And they are sitting there waiting – and waiting for someone to help them start their lives. over again.”

Taylor noted that there are about 27 million refugees around the world, according to the UN refugee agency, yet about 100,000 are resettled each year. Most are from Syria, Venezuela, Afghanistan, South Sudan and Myanmar according to these data.

“It’s a drop in the bucket,” Taylor said.

Two people carrying bags next to a road.
Asylum seekers from Yemen cross the border from New York to Quebec in March 2017. Refugee 613 director Louisa Taylor asks Canadians to remember refugees and newcomers from different countries, while headlines focus on Ukraine. (Ryan Remiorz / The Canadian Press)

Taylor said she is blown away by how generous people have been to Ukrainians, but does not want the wider community to forget about others resettling in the country’s capital and beyond.

“We’re part of that effort and we’re cheering on it. We’re just saying let’s make a bigger table,” she said, noting that there are people who come from different countries and are not part of “high . -profit programs “run by the government to speed up immigration for certain groups.

“We just need Canadians to raise their hand and say, ‘Yes, I want to help these people, too.'”

Stories must have ‘equal weight’

Doreen Katto, a program coordinator at Matthew House Ottawa’s Refugee Services, said she noticed that Canada’s immigration department paid “special attention to some groups.”

“We have seen it happen with Afghans and again with Ukrainians,” Katto wrote in an email to CBC.

As a result, Katto said many other refugee applicants have had longer waiting times than usual with Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada. A plaintiff has been waiting more than a year for their work permit, she said.

“During this time, they are receiving benefits of social assistance that are far from adequate,” Katto said. “I feel that every refugee or displaced person has a story, and all stories should weigh equally.”

Afghans still need help

Zahira Sarwar, director of the Ottawa-based Afghan Canadian Support Network (ACSN), said as the war in Ukraine unfolded that she has noticed that the number of Afghan families being brought to Canada and Ottawa has slowed.

We just note that there has been much less attention paid to helping Afghans since the Ukraine crisis.– Zahira Sarwar, ACSN

Earlier this month, Canada fulfilled a third of its commitment to protect 40,000 Afghans who have fled the country since Kabul’s fall to the Taliban last summer.

The number of donations to Afghans in Ottawa is also “drastically reduced,” Sarwar said.

“Last fall, there were a lot of people who would line up either with physical donations or [employment] offer, “she said.

“This type of offer has pretty much stopped coming in. And so we just notice that there is a lot less attention paid to helping Afghans since the Ukraine crisis.”

Volunteers oversee a donation event for the Afghan Canadian Support Network in February 2022. The organization is still seeking donations and employment opportunities for families. (Posted by Zahira Sarwar)

Sarwar said Afghan families have noticed inequality in recent months.

For example, families have noted that some teachers did not take the time to inform students about the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan when their children joined the class, but have taken the time to teach students about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in recent months.

“It’s rubbing us the wrong way, but … we know there’s a little bit of underlying racism involved, which is also something to be expected,” she said.

Sarwar wants the Ottawans to remember that it does not matter where people come from.

“[Newcomers] have experienced something very tragic and they need help. They need kindness. They need people to open their hearts. We do not need prejudice, “she said.

Donations, job offers are still needed

ACSN is still looking for volunteers to help, as well as more donations – from clothing to second-hand household items, gift cards to groceries.

Now that many families have moved into their own homes, she asks business owners who are able to offer employment to contact the group.

“We are in contact with families who are very fluent in English. Many of them are professionals. They are lawyers, engineers … doctors, some are even business owners. But they are looking for work,” she said.

“Please contact us. It can help families.”

Leave a Comment