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1,800 Afghan newcomers could move to Waterloo region by 2023

The number was estimated based on similar figures from the Syrian newcomer resettlement in 2015 and 2016

Sayed Salahuddin Dorokhshan is sitting in one of the rooms at the Comfort Inn.

Sayed Salahuddin Dorokhshan fled from Kabul to Canada in September with his family and moved to Waterloo region in October. He is pictured here sitting in one of the rooms at the Comfort Inn

Photo:  CBC / Hala Ghonaim

RCI

An estimated 1,800 Afghan newcomers could move to Waterloo region over the next two years, which means regional service providers must prepare for an increased demand on services.

Immigration Partnership, a group made up of more than 60 organizations with a goal to ease immigration to the region, launched a task force last November to focus on the resettlement of Afghan newcomers.

The task force prepared an update to a regional committee Tuesday that suggests roughly 1,800 Afghan newcomers could move to the region over 2022 and 2023, along with refugees from other countries. The prediction was made based on similar numbers from the Syrian refugee resettlement program back in 2015 and 2016.

That's a working estimate that we're trying to use to support planning in the community, but our numbers could end up being very different from that, said Tara Bedard, executive director of Immigration Partnership.

This prediction includes the current Afghan newcomers that have moved to Waterloo region.

As of December 2021, 211 people have settled into the region and at least 60 per cent of them have moved into permanent housing. The remaining families are living in temporary accommodation sites in Cambridge and Waterloo, including the Comfort Inn.

Portrait of Tara Bedard.Enlarge image (new window)

Tara Bedard is the executive director of Immigration Partnership in Waterloo region.

Photo: Submitted by Tara Bedard

It's unclear what the flow of newcomers will look like, but Bedard said community partners, including service organizations and resettlement agencies, are assessing their needs and planning for multiple scenarios.

We've been talking about, given the complexity of the situation in Afghanistan, it's not likely to be just a steady flow of people who come into the community. What would a surge look like? How do we respond to that? said Bedard.

Looking for doctors for newcomers

We started working with our school boards, our health system leaders, people in the housing sector and with groups that are focused on what this community welcoming and integration looks like to prepare systems to be able to welcome this kind of bigger group.

Reception House, for example, is working with local school boards to ensure children living in temporary accommodation can still go to school, despite not having a permanent address, said Lynne Griffiths-Fulton, interim CEO of the agency.

Staff are also working with health-care partners to seek primary care physicians who will take on refugee families.

There will need to be some more planning done at various different levels and within systems to ensure that they can accommodate those numbers, said Griffiths-Fulton.

She said the agency has the capacity to expand its system to help more people, but that's with help from partners in other sectors.

Challenges with the cost of living

I think the big challenges are going to be the education piece … employment … health care … and housing, ensuring that there [is] affordable housing, she said.

We can do this, but we have to work together.

This preparation work comes as the community is already dealing with some resettlement challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Griffiths-Fulton said new limitations have directly impacted newcomers.

COVID has really put a strain on everything … that is going to mean longer wait times, less access to services simply because of COVID restrictions and/or just the types of services that are provided now that aren't necessarily as accessible, she said.

The cost of living has also been impacted, she said. That puts more financial pressures on all families, including newcomers.

COVID harder on everyone

Things become harder and harder for people, she said.

Bedard said the latest round of provincial restrictions (new window) are also making people feel more isolated, especially if they live in temporary housing.

However, despite the challenges, she said the region has the infrastructure in place to continue helping more people.

We have long been a resettlement community, she said. The foundational capacity is there, the willingness is there, the desires to support the families who are arriving is there. And so I think we're in a good situation to be able to quickly change and do what needs to be done.

The task force has asked the region to prepare to advocate to the federal and provincial governments to address issues with resettlement.

Hala Ghonaim (new window) · CBC News

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