Ever since the Taliban took over in Afghanistan five months ago, 30-year-old Maqsood, his pregnant wife and their three young children have been hiding in safe houses, waiting to be evacuated to Canada.
The first house closed down when Aman Lara, a Canadian non-profit that is providing refuge to Afghans while working to safely evacuate them, was forced to scale back because of a lack of funds. The group kept just 10 per cent of its network of houses, mostly for people who have been approved for resettlement to Canada. Maqsood, a former Afghan interpreter, and his family were among the lucky ones to keep a roof over their heads.
But the money is running out again and next week, the family must move once more – to cheaper accommodations.
It’s a sign of the precarious circumstances that Afghans who worked alongside Canadians find themselves in as they wait to move to Canada. And Aman Lara, which relies on private donations to keep safe houses open, fears for the well-being of the Afghans who have met Canada’s resettlement criteria but find themselves without a secure place to stay while Ottawa works on finding ways to evacuate them.
“We need to buy time for us to find a solution,” said Eleanor Taylor, a retired Canadian Armed Forces lieutenant-colonel and Aman Lara’s volunteer chief of staff. “And in that block of time, we need the support of Canadians.”
Maqsood doesn’t know how long his family’s new accommodation will last.
“What will happen to my life and my eight-months pregnant wife and three children?” he said in a WhatsApp exchange. “Where will I go in this freezing cold weather?” The Globe and Mail is only identifying Maqsood by his first name because he fears for his family’s safety.
He had previously shared photos of his home and said the Taliban destroyed it because he worked with Canada and other NATO Forces. “I cannot go anywhere now,” he said, speaking of the risk to him and his family because the Taliban can identify him.
Ms. Taylor said that Aman Lara has had success in the past six weeks with moving people with proper documents overland to Pakistan. However, many Afghans approved for resettlement in Canada do not have an Afghan passport, which is required along with a Pakistani visa to enter Pakistan. Maqsood said he has a passport but members of his family do not.
Aman Lara is working with Ottawa to find a way to move approved Afghans without passports directly to Canada, Ms. Taylor said. In the meantime, the non-profit needs to continue to provide these Afghans with safe housing.
She said Aman Lara is seeking private donations to support “staging accommodations,” which is meant to be short-term housing for Afghans as they prepare to leave. Ms. Taylor said there are 20 families who have approved applications and are waiting on travel documents to be evacuated.
The average cost per day to accommodate and feed a family of four, she said, is $100. Ms. Taylor said the length of time the group can house the families, which include many children, depends on private donations.
Aman Lara was previously supported by the Veterans Transition Network (VTN), a Canadian group that funded safe houses, evacuation and staffing operations through private donations. In December, Aman Lara began working with a new fundraising partner that supports the broad range of Afghans that Aman Lara is helping. Currently, VTN is focused on specifically helping those who assisted Canada’s military mission, said Tim Laidler, the president of VTN’s board of directors.
“It’s really tough to close safe houses. VTN wishes these places of refuge could continue indefinitely. Many vulnerable Afghans and their families were able to stay safe until their evacuations and they are enormously grateful to Canada’s caring donors,” Mr. Laidler said. “VTN’s evacuations will continue, despite the closures,” he added.
He said VTN advocated for safe-house funding from the Canadian government but that it wasn’t forthcoming.
Global Affairs Canada provides funding to Journalists for Human Rights, Veterans Transition Network and Aman Lara “in their efforts to protect vulnerable persons in Afghanistan,” department spokesperson Jason Kung said.
“We continue to work closely with these organizations regarding the evolving situation. Due to the volatile security situation in Afghanistan, Canada is not currently funding the safe houses directly,” he said.
Mr. Kung reiterated that Canada looks forward to welcoming 40,000 Afghan refugees to Canada. On Tuesday, Immigration Minister Sean Fraser said in a statement that 250 Afghan refugees, including 170 human-rights defenders, had arrived that day as government-assisted refugees. So far, Canada has welcomed about 6,750 Afghan nationals.
Ms. Taylor said the people in the safe houses have all been approved for resettlement, but right now only those with proper documents will make it out. The others will be moved and she hopes to find a solution for them soon.
“The frustration and the panic that these people must feel, it must be enormous, because they’re all equally eligible.”
The Globe and Mail
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