Afghan refugees, ‘very tough’ human rights workers arrive in Edmonton


On Friday, 170 refugees from Afghanistan, dozens of whom are human rights workers, arrived in Edmonton.

The group landed in Calgary earlier this week and traveled to Edmonton by bus. Agencies have been working for months to bring them to Edmonton, the Catholic Social Service (CSS) said.

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“We finally got confirmation that yes, in fact, they are coming, they can all come to Edmonton and they will arrive today,” said Kathryn Friesen, director of immigration for CSS.

The refugees fled Afghanistan during the Taliban uprising in August 2021 and were in hiding until earlier this week, when a flight could be booked, CSS said.

“They are human rights workers, human rights defenders,” Friesen said. “They were doing that job in Afghanistan, which put them in a very precarious situation when the Taliban took over the country and they had to leave immediately for Pakistan.

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“They were flagged as a high-risk group and Canada took on the challenge of agreeing to bring them here.”

The Liberal government initially promised to resettle 20,000 Afghan refugees, but increased that promise during the federal election campaign to 40,000.

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“Edmonton and our agency, CSS, our industry colleagues in the community have all been excited and willing and wanting to welcome this very resilient and resourceful group that has really been doing an amazing job in Afghanistan,” Friesen said.

“Many of those who arrived have worked for decades documenting human rights abuses and war crimes in Afghanistan and intend to continue their work, once they are established, with the assistance of Canadian and international non-governmental organizations,” CSS added. in a press release.

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Friesen said that these particular refugees have a high level of English and are highly educated. Forty percent of them are children, he said.

Many choose to keep a lower profile and not speak publicly about their resettlement for security reasons, Friesen explained.

“It can be a very risky situation. Because if they have family or friends back home, and they have a high profile in the community, they could be targeting people in their home country because of what’s going on here.”

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Once they arrive, the new arrivals will complete their quarantine in Edmonton.

CSS will re-establish them in the city, providing housing, orientation, language testing, and other resources as needed.

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CSS supports between 10,000 and 15,000 new arrivals in Canada each year and has helped resettle 118 Afghan refugees in Edmonton and Red Deer since August.

The trip for them was supported by Front Line Defenders and Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC).

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Friesen expects Edmonton to welcome more Afghan refugees in the coming months.

“People like human rights defenders and people who worked with Canada in Afghanistan and are now being attacked for the work they did with our country.

“This is a good opportunity for Edmonton to show how we can welcome people into our community and hopefully get it right so we can continue to bring newcomers into our community and really have a society that is centered around social inclusion of refugees.

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She said the response from the community in recent months has been “overwhelming and heartwarming.”

To support reception and resettlement work, visit the CSS Refugee Appeal Page or associated agencies: Mennonite Center for Newcomers, Islamic Family Social Services Association, Y Action for Healthy Communities.

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