Fleeing war to new beginnings in Waterloo region: How these 2 refugees are resettling

·4 min read
Hajera Amir Karimi, left, moved to Kitchener from Afghanistan nine months ago. Iryna Denysevych, right, moved to Waterloo from Ukraine on May 8. (Hala Ghonaim/CBC - image credit)
Hajera Amir Karimi, left, moved to Kitchener from Afghanistan nine months ago. Iryna Denysevych, right, moved to Waterloo from Ukraine on May 8. (Hala Ghonaim/CBC - image credit)

Over the last couple of years, hundreds of refugees fleeing war and dangerous conditions have moved to Ontario.

As of June 13, Waterloo region alone has welcomed about 400 government-assisted and privately-sponsored Afghan refugees fleeing Taliban rule.

Many Ukrainian refugees have also settled in the region and continue to make their way here following the Russian invasion.

Around 110 Ukrainians have arrived in the region as of May 15, according to Immigration Partnership.

Forced to leave everything behind, including their homes, jobs, belongings and even loved ones, these resilient families are slowly rebuilding a life in the region.

To mark World Refugee Day on Monday, CBC Kitchener-Waterloo is highlighting two local families, their stories of struggle, strength and resettlement — and how they're looking forward to futures full of ambition and new beginnings.

Hajera Amir Karimi 

Hala Ghonaim/CBC
Hala Ghonaim/CBC

Hajera Amir Karimi and her two young daughters moved to Kitchener nine months ago, leaving behind a large extended family in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Karimi, a journalist and former radio host, is also physically separated from her husband, who's in Germany, and anxiously hoping he'll be approved to come to Canada.

"It's very difficult for newcomers," she said, recalling her first few weeks in the country.

"You don't have a Canadian experience if you want to start to work … You don't know if the government will accept your diploma or not … [and] the language is a big problem," she said.

"But [the] opportunities are good because Canada is a peaceful and democratic country," said Karimi.

Since moving, Karimi has enrolled in English lessons and found a local circle of caring friends, and her daughters are enjoying their new school and neighbourhood.

"Now I feel a little bit good," she said.

But the journalist is still itching to tell the stories of her home country. She hasn't been able to find a job here due to the language barrier, but she's not letting that get in the way.

WATCH | Afghan refugee Sayed Salahuddin Dorokhshan on resettling in Waterloo region

She wants to start her own show on an audio platform. It's still in the early planning stages, but the program would showcase her culture and others.

"I want to show the world the different countries, cultures and people … I want people to know about all cultures," she said.

Iryna Denysevych

Hala Ghonaim/CBC
Hala Ghonaim/CBC

Iryna Denysevych is one of many Ukrainian refugees who arrived in Waterloo region from Ukraine following Russia's invasion in February.

Denysevych, her husband and two children arrived in Waterloo on May 8, and were greeted by Heidi Sproul and her family, who are currently hosting them.

Denysevych recalls her harrowing journey from her home city of Dnipro to Poland and eventually Canada.

"I was very scared," she said, worried about the violence and safety of her family.

She said she needed to move in with a host family because they didn't have money and couldn't secure a place to stay. She chose Waterloo because the tech company she worked for in Ukraine has an office there.

Sproul said she felt compelled to take action after watching violence unfold in Ukraine.

"I couldn't imagine if that happened to me and what kind of support I would need. And I wanted to provide that for someone," she said. "It's been amazing. They're easy house guests and we have learned a lot … We've had a really great experience."

Meanwhile, Denysevych said she has bittersweet feelings about the future. On one hand, she's grateful for a safer and promising future in Canada, but on the other hand, she can't help but think about the safety of her extended family back home.

"Sometimes I'm disappointed when I compare life here and life with my relatives … they live in a very dangerous place," she said.

"The most important thing for me is that my kids live in peace … They have to create a good life here. So that's why I take such a risk to go to Canada," she added.

Denysevych hopes both her children will learn English and pursue their studies here. As for her, she recently got her G1 driver's test and secured a job with her company's Waterloo branch.

Now, when she thinks about the future, she says "it's incredible."

"It's like [a] sun rise in front of my eyes."

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