Islamic Centre hopes to assist refugees

·4 min read

The Brandon Islamic Centre is hoping to play a role in the resettlement of 50 Afghan refugees who are expected to arrive in the city this week, says one of the organization’s board members.

This could involve partnering with Westman Immigrant Services (WIS), which will also be working with the newcomers. Community outreach manager Hannah Holt said she couldn’t provide a specific date of the arrival due to privacy concerns. However, transportation has already been arranged to bring the refugees from Winnipeg, where they’ll arrive on a charter flight, to Brandon.

WIS will focus on conducting in-depth initial needs assessments for the families and individuals that make up the group, Holt said.

“When they come to Brandon, our resettlement assistance program team and our case management team really start the hands-on work with them. We’ll be meeting with them on a daily, regular basis and … just basically finding out where things are at, what their situation is, what their employment history is.”

There are several members from the Brandon Islamic Centre who work closely with WIS, but no plans for collaboration between the two organizations have been solidified, according to Faiz Ahmad, who sits on the board of directors of the Islamic Centre.

“We know very well that WIS works very closely in the settlement services of the new immigrants, and they work very efficiently as well,” Ahmad said. “The Brandon Islamic Centre is always open and willing to give help in any way we can.”

The Islamic Centre helps immigrants and refugees by, first of all, giving them a sense of connection and belonging. Ahmad said the centre does this by providing newcomers a space to connect with people like themselves.

“We advise them with various things that are going to make their life meaningful and successful here in our country … we look around for housing for them, things like that.”

Ahmad, who is a biology professor at Brandon University, was born in India and immigrated to Canada 41 years ago. He has been living in Brandon for 25 years, and said it’s important to remember that Canada is a multicultural nation.

“We all come from different places. That’s how this country was made, and everyone wants to make a success of themselves and contribute to the growth of the country. That’s no different today than it was 50 years ago or 100 years ago. Everyone does whatever they can to help anyone.”

It’s especially important for people to reach out and welcome refugees, since they go through such a drastic change, Ahmad added.

“They are the ones who are feeling the loneliness.”

Holt expressed gratitude around the prospect of WIS partnering with the Islamic centre to assist the newcomers.

“We’re just really grateful for their support, and we’ll be in touch with them, as well as other community partners, when the time comes.”

The first planeload of Afghan refugees who supported the Canadian military mission in Afghanistan arrived in the country in early August of last year. The month before that, the federal government announced a special program to urgently resettle Afghans deemed to have been “integral” to the Canadian Armed Forces’ mission, including interpreters, cooks, drivers, cleaners, construction workers, security guards and embassy staff, as well as members of their families.

More than 800 Afghans who supported the mission have been resettled in Canada over the past decade, the Canadian government said last August. However, many remain in Afghanistan. According to a May 23 Globe and Mail report, upwards of 13,000 Afghan nationals had arrived in Canada, with about 6,225 coming under the special program for Afghans who assisted the Canadian government.

On Wednesday, federal Immigration Minister Sean Fraser said his department is initiating a hiring spree to bring 1,250 new employees on board by the end of the fall to tackle massive backlogs in processing immigration applications. As of the end of July, just over half of the 2.4 million pending immigration applications have taken longer to process than the government’s service standards dictate they should.

In January, Fraser vowed to eliminate immigration backlogs caused by the COVID-19 pandemic by the end of 2022. But shortly after that, Canada launched a major response to the refugee crisis caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Fraser said more recent delays were brought about by the government’s response to humanitarian crises in Afghanistan and Ukraine and technology updates for the government’s aging systems.

At a press conference held on July 21, Conservative immigration critic Jasraj Singh Hallan criticized the government for not keeping the special immigration program aimed at Afghan nationals open to more applications, and that some applicants his office has been in touch with hadn’t heard back from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.

Miranda Leybourne, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brandon Sun