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Snowfall creates piles of opportunity for refugees eager to work

Hire A Refugee got hundreds of calls to help Winnipeggers dig their way out after major snowfall

Abdullah Alhassan,19, came to Canada as a refugee from Syria five years ago. He's been shovelling driveways to help save money for university.

Abdullah Alhassan,19, came to Canada as a refugee from Syria five years ago. He's been shovelling driveways to help save money for university.

Photo: (Holly Caruk/CBC)

RCI

After four days of shovelling out dozens of homes and businesses, Omar Rahimi and his crew are taking a short but well-deserved break before the next snowfall.

We were really happy to see the snow, said Rahimi. It's been a little bit too much, you know, all at once. 

Rahimi is the co-owner of Hire A Refugee. The organization helps newcomers find work — whether it's shovelling snow, painting, demolition or garbage removal.

Since the snow started falling last week, Rahimi's phone hasn't stopped ringing. He says he's fielded hundreds of calls and kept his crew of about two dozen refugees digging out driveways citywide.

When [the snow comes] we go right away, like 4 a.m., 3 a.m., just go, said Abdullah Alhassan,19, who came to Canada as a refugee from Syria five years ago.

 Sometimes we eat [dinner] outside, he said.

Omar Rahimi (right) and some of his shovellers stand outside amid the snowstorm.

Omar Rahimi (right) and some of his shovellers stand outside amid the snowstorm.

Photo: (Submitted by Omar Rahimi)

The work is helping Alhassan save up for university, but it also helps newcomers learn how to deal with Manitoba winters, he says.

For the new guys it's hard, said Alhassan who's been shovelling for three years.

He tells them to get gloves, boots, try to stay warm, because it's the weather, it's not a game, right? You have to stay warm because if you are cold, you can't work.

'From the desert to this'

Rahimi said when refugees first arrive in Manitoba, the cold can be a drawback when it comes to taking on different jobs.

Some guys they say its very hard and they probably won't come back again, some guys don't mind, they need money so they want to work, Rahimi said.

We want to teach them how to deal with snow, it's not easy. Coming from [the] desert to this, not easy.

Rahimi said some of the young people have never shoveled snow before, and don't have gloves or proper clothing.

Their hands are all wet, they come with runners, said Rahimi.

It's been hard to watch them so we try and bring them boots.

Rahimi says with the pandemic, some now see working outside as a safer option than indoor jobs.

A lot of the guys, they lost many family members back home and they are the only man in the house so because of COVID the families say 'stay home', because we don't want to go out and COVID, he said.

Many of the refugees Rahimi works with have been impacted by the pandemic and unable to find consistent work.

They are really in need right now, and there's a lot of shortages of labour, so we try to fill in the gaps, he said.

It's been really scary because we've got families, Rahimi said.

Organization removes barriers for refugees

Rahimi came here as a refugee from Iraq when he was 18. He said he relied on people to help him find work and he wants to do the same for others.

It's very, very important for people to come here and start working, start giving back and help their family, said Rahimi.

He speaks four languages fluently — Kurdish, Arabic, Persian and English — so he's able to help explain jobs to many newcomers and get them set up with businesses.

We want to make sure [when] these people come here there's no barriers in front of them.

After a few slow winters, Rahimi is hopeful Mother Nature will provide more opportunities for his crew to get out and earn some money, though he wishes the snow in this week's forecast would come a little later.

I think maybe it would have been nice if it was next week, we'd get some rest, but it's OK, bring it on.

Holly Caruk (new window) · CBC News

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