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Afghanistan refugee family ’in survival mode’ but happy, grateful after arriving in Winnipeg

'Being able to speak with them in their language, and connect with us, it was really powerful'

In this image provided by the U.S. Marine Corps, families board a U.S. Air Force Boeing C-17 Globemaster III during ongoing evacuations at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Kabul, Afghanistan, Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2021.

In this image provided by the U.S. Marine Corps, families board a U.S. Air Force Boeing C-17 Globemaster III during ongoing evacuations at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Kabul, Afghanistan, Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2021.

Photo: (Sgt. Samuel Ruiz/U.S. Marine Corps/The Associated Press)

RCI

Surrounded by garbage bags containing only the clothes they could grab, an Afghan family of 10 arrived in Winnipeg Thursday night with tired but smiling, relieved faces, says a woman who was there to welcome them. 

Oh, it was a very heartfelt moment, just seeing them. They were in survival mode, but the fact that they were so happy, just being so relieved and being so thankful, it was really nice to see them, said Seeba Wahabi, who works with the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization of Manitoba, or IRCOM.  

The family, with several young children, is among the thousands airlifted out of their home country in the past few weeks as the Taliban regained control of the country. Canada was part of a coalition airlifting some of those seeking refuge.

Being able to speak with them in their language, and connect with us, it was really powerful, said Wahabi, who was part of a small group at the airport that included some youth leaders from IRCOM and one or two Afghan-Canadian families.

They are so cute — lots of young kids, so I'm really relieved to know that Canada is able to help. I was just so happy just to see that in action.

The moment also created flashbacks for Wahabi, who came to Canada as a refugee in 2008. When she was young and her brother had just been born, the Wahabi family fled the Taliban and became refugees in Pakistan.

They lived there for a decade before coming to Canada. She said she felt traumatized earlier this month when she heard the Taliban, who had been pushed into hiding during the two-decade-long war in Afghanistan, had begun to take over again.

I just had all my memories come back to life. It was like 1:30 a.m. when we got to Winnipeg and we were so tired, but just so relieved with my mom and my sister and brother, Wahabi said.

"We just needed that familiar voice to just say, 'Hey, I'm an Afghan,' and you know, 'Welcome' in our language. So just being able to provide that for them last night was so powerful.

You could see it in their eyes. They were like relieved, just knowing that we were there.

There are groups now helping the family find temporary housing.

They will be busy over the next while, with two more families expected Friday night, Wahabi said.

What we did basically last night was just going and building those connections, providing our numbers and just offering our support and being around them. So that's the hope for the next families as well, she said.

Crowds of people wait outside the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Aug. 25, in this picture obtained from social media.

Crowds of people wait outside the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Aug. 25, in this picture obtained from social media.

Photo: (David Martinon/Twitter/Reuters)

In her role with IRCOM, Wahabi is usually a homework education teacher helping newcomer families, not someone who helps with resettlement.

But she was moved to help in whatever way she could with families from her homeland.

She's hoping to take that effort to Toronto as well.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada sent an email to agencies like IRCOM, asking for volunteers to fly to Toronto to support the many refugees arriving from Afghanistan.

I didn't even take a second. I responded right away expressing I'm willing to volunteer and help out, Wahabi said. That's been approved, and soon they'll know when they'll need us.

Part of the process will be to help families whose destination is ultimately Winnipeg, providing them with contact numbers and resources to help them begin the resettlement process as soon as possible.

Because as soon as they're resettled, they're able to bring in more, and we need to make sure that more families are able to escape as fast, as safe as they can, Wahabi said.

Canada has previously said it intends to bring in 20,000 refugees. Those are over and above the former interpreters who helped Canada in its military mission in Afghanistan and their family members, who now fear retribution at the hands of the Taliban.

Wahabi wants to see much more than that.

Afghanistan's population is 3.04 million. Bringing 20,000 is not anything — basically drinking the ocean with a straw, she said. 

There's a lot of family members, a lot of, you know, family, friends that are stuck at the moment, like everywhere. Just knowing that there were a few that were able to make it was really a relief.

Darren Bernhardt (new window) · CBC News

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