He worked for the Canadian embassy in Afghanistan. Now, he's being told to move into a shelter

·6 min read
Nearly a year after he set foot in Canada, Mohammad Fahim Rahmani's support through the federal Resettlement Assistance Program is coming to an end — even as his parents' papers languish in the processing queue with the federal government. Now he's being told to leave for a shelter and sign up for social assistance.  (Darek Zdzienicki/CBC - image credit)
Nearly a year after he set foot in Canada, Mohammad Fahim Rahmani's support through the federal Resettlement Assistance Program is coming to an end — even as his parents' papers languish in the processing queue with the federal government. Now he's being told to leave for a shelter and sign up for social assistance. (Darek Zdzienicki/CBC - image credit)

Before life as he knew it turned upside down with the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, Mohammad Fahim Rahmani worked with the Canadian embassy.

Now, he's being told to pack his things, move to a Toronto shelter and apply for social assistance.

That's because, nearly a year after he set foot in Canada, the support he and his family received through the federal Resettlement Assistance Program is coming to an end — even as his parents' permanent residence paperwork languish in the processing queue with the federal government. The program provides up to a year of direct financial support, temporary accommodation and referrals to community-based services as needed.

"We didn't come from Afghanistan to live in shelters," Rahmani, 30, told CBC Toronto outside the Toronto hotel where he's currently staying.

"Everybody wants to get their documents, start their life and their own place and start their job. And the one year of opportunities I lost — who's going to pay for that?"

Rahmani doesn't want to be on social assistance. He doesn't want to live in a government-funded hotel. But as long as his parents' papers are outstanding, he says their lives are on hold and that a shelter isn't an option.

'Nobody will help us after that'

His own papers have since been processed, but Rahmani says he hasn't been able to move on and find work because his parents don't speak English and need his help day-to-day while they await processing. In the meantime, he fears moving from the government-paid hotel to a shelter could mean falling through the cracks of a system he never should have had to navigate.

"My biggest fear is if we move, unfortunately nobody will help us after that," Rahmani said.

He's not alone.

More than a year after the federal government committed to settle 40,000 Afghan refugees in Canada, it's welcomed less than half that. Many still wait for their papers to be processed by the federal government. Until then, multiple refugees have told CBC News they have no social insurance numbers and can't get work — their lives on hold.

CBC Toronto spoke to two different immigration lawyers about the refugees' situation. One said as far as he knew there was no option for Afghan refugees to receive work permits while awaiting processing. Another said it was in fact possible.

To clarify the confusion, CBC News asked Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada multiple times about the refugees' claims. The department could not provide a response as to the question of whether the refugees could work while their paperwork was being processed.

It's shameful the Canadian government has dropped the ball on the resettlement procedures for these Afghan nationals. - Robert Blanshay, immigration lawyer

As a housekeeping manager for the Canadian embassy in Kabul, Rahmani thought he was one of the lucky ones. He managed to evacuate with his parents and sister in tow before the Kabul airport closed, arriving in Canada on Aug. 28, 2021.

In the time since, he's been moved from one hotel to another to a third, and back to the first.

Rahmani says he's made multiple inquiries about the status of his parents' permanent residence application, eventually learning there were concerns over his father's past involvement in the Afghan military.

That's despite being cleared to come to Canada in the first place with documents issued by the IRCC, he says.

"My family was not any terrorist. They didn't come illegally," he said.

Rahmani now fears his father could be deported right back to a country run by a group Canada deems a terrorist organization before the government gets through its processing backlog to consider the 63-year-old's application for permanent residence.

'I want to work, I want to study'

Hikmatullah Barakzai, 28, came to Canada with his brother, who was an interpreter for the Canadian army. He arrived on Oct. 10 with his young daughter and pregnant wife, who delivered their baby at the hotel where they were put up.

With his son now six months old, the entire family is still living in a single hotel room, now a different hotel. There's no kitchen, no park nearby and no answer as to how long their lives will remain in limbo, he says.

Submitted by Hikmatullah Barakzai
Submitted by Hikmatullah Barakzai

"I have family, I have kids. I want to work. I want to study. My wife wants to study," he said. "Everything is stopped and just waiting. But I don't know for how long."

Barakzai says he asked his government-desginated settlement service provider COSTI Immigrant Services about applying for a work permit, but was told he should simply wait for his permanent residence paperwork to go through. COSTI is a Toronto-based immigrant services agency funded by the IRCC to deliver settlement assistance, language training, job search assistance and other such services to government-assisted refugees and other eligible newcomers.

Rahmani says it was also COSTI that told him it was time to leave the hotel.

CBC News contacted COSTI for comment, however in a statement, the agency said little more than: "There are no families at the hotel beyond a year."

All other questions were referred to the IRCC.

In an email to CBC News, IRCC spokesperson Nancy Caron said the department is "aware that some Afghans in Canada remain temporarily in hotels as we work to finalize their immigration application status."

"For Afghans whose cases are complex, processing will take longer as we work to receive information and work through their application," the statement said, adding it "continues to raise awareness around the current housing challenges that many individuals are facing by working together with our federal and provincial counterparts."

The department did not say why refugees are limited to one year of hotel accommodation if their paperwork is still under review, or address concerns about falling through the cracks if they do as they're told and move to a shelter.

Canada 'has dropped the ball' on Afghans: lawyer

Toronto-based immigration lawyer Robert Blanshay says Canada needs to be more forthcoming about the reasons why so many Afghan refugees are still facing a bureaucratic holdup.

"It's shameful the Canadian government has dropped the ball on the resettlement procedures for these Afghan nationals," he said.

"They've made their way through the most harrowing of circumstances that one could ever imagine, only to finally arrive in Canada and sort of exhale and breathe a sigh of relief to realize that they've got a different set of struggles."

And to those who think living out of hotels might not be so bad, he says, "There's been a lot of nightmare stories."

Meanwhile, as the months pass, Barakzai is pleading for Canada to act faster so that his little ones will soon be able to have a home beyond the four walls of their single hotel room.

"We left everything back home," he said. "We lost everything. Now we are here, waiting for your help."

"Please pay attention to us."