Afghan community in crisis looks for supports. Here’s how groups in southwestern Ontario are helping

Settlement adviser Zakieh Zarabi has been spending her days helping families in Windsor-Essex who have been desperately trying to get loved ones to safety since the Taliban took over Afghanistan earlier this month.  

But the process to evacuate them hasn’t been easy, she told CBC News.

“They are desperately looking to help their family and friends,” said Zarabi, who’s with YMCA of Southwestern Ontario.”It’s day by day … every day it’s getting worse, and because people have no choice … it’s kind of confusion. Most don’t know what’s happening next hour, next day.” 

Last week, when the Taliban seized control of the country, Canada and the United States began sending flights to Kabul airport to get them out. Members of the Afghan community, meanwhile, have watched their loved ones experience violence and terror. 

In Windsor, Zarabi is working with dozens of families to access the right supports.

To better understand the needs of the community in southwestern Ontario, Zarabi has set up a virtual information session in partnership with the Legal Assistance of Windsor and the Diocese of London. Families are invited to join the meeting this evening. 

YMCA of Southwestern Ontario, the Legal Assistance of Windsor and the Diocese of London are joining together to offer the Afghan community an information session Wednesday evening. (Twitter)

Every situation is different

This past weekend alone, she said, she was in touch with at least 25 local families, who each have between five and seven loved ones.

Every story and situation has been different, Zarabi said. 

It’s a grieving time for many and many.– Zakieh Zarabi

“Some, they have Canadian status, but they don’t know how to leave and come and join their family here. And some have been activists, especially women who have been in the media — they are in danger and … they have been disconnected. That’s why they are contacting families abroad living in Canada, to see if they can help.” 

Afghanistan is home for Zarabi, who immigrated to Windsor in 2002. Watching the devastation taking place and trying to help people from afar has been difficult, she said. 

“When I watch the media, it’s heartbreaking,” Zarabi said. 

“I remember those streets and those parks were very beautiful, and people freely, especially women, were walking there, and I was one of them. But today, I see it’s incomparable, it’s totally totally different. I can tell actually it’s a grieving time for many and many [people].”

Lawyer says more government info, clarity needed 

Yet, for some, government programs and other supports may be hard to access, according to David Cote, a lawyer with the Legal Assistance of Windsor. 

He’s heard from many families who are unsure what resources are available. 

“They don’t know what the details are, they don’t know where to find the information, or how to start the process, or do I need to have a passport, or can I apply without them? So it’s those details about the government programs that people want to hear,” he said.

David Cote, with Legal Assistance of Windsor, says some people who aren’t in Afghanistan also want to know what’s available to them. (Christopher Ensing/CBC)

Cote said people who aren’t in Afghanistan also want to know what’s available to them. Some are students or workers and want to know if they can go back to Afghanistan, or whether they could stay in Canada even though their permit has expired.

“People are scared, they’re anxious, they’re frustrated,” he said. 

The federal government, Cote added, needs to offer better support. 

“What we would like to see from the federal government is a bit more information, a bit more clarity on what these programs are going to entail,” he said, adding many of the websites are also only offered in English or French. 

“Right now there’s an email you can email, but you feel like you’re emailing perhaps into the ether, so having some response to those inquiries.” 

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