Afghan refugees begin new lives in Ottawa

OTTAWA — There is a sign outside the Days Inn on Moodie Drive in Ottawa that says “stay safe with us”.

It’s a sign erected for the pandemic, but it has special meaning for the hotel’s newest guests.

The hotel welcomed 43 Afghan refugees this week. Ottawa is their new home after fleeing their own country.

“I was born and raised in Afghanistan,” said Mohammad Saber Perdes. Perdes, his wife and their four children came here through the Canadian government’s refugee assistance program. Their request was processed in just nine days.

“It was unbelievably fast and I’m very grateful to the government and people of Canada for saving our lives and accepting us as part of Canada,” he said.

Perdes and his family had just two days to sell their belongings and organize their exit. Today, the process begins to get settled here.

“Basically, we attend to their immediate needs,” said Asso Faraj, a counsellor working with the Resettlement Assistance Program. “Applying for health cards, SIN cards and basically getting them going to start a new life here.”

And that life needs the community’s support. The Catholic Centre for Immigrants is making a plea for financial donations and housing, so families can be moved from the hotel as soon as possible.

“We are definitely looking for housing, so if you’ve got an apartment you can see your way to renting, we’re very interested,” said Carl Nicholson, Executive Director of the Catholic Centre for Immigrants.

Perdes is eager to get working. He has a master’s degree from an American University. He’s a Fulbright scholar and has 15 years of experience in the fields of public health, leadership and management.

And he’s excited about his children’s education here, particularly his daughters, whose reality would have been much different in Afghanistan.

“It’s a fear for almost every girl and every woman who was working there in Afghanistan and I know hundreds of them who are asking me to guide them about how to get out of the country,” said Perdes.

And above all, we are urged to give our city’s newest arrivals, a warm Canadian welcome.

“When you meet the stranger, smile. You know what? It makes a big difference,” said Nicholson. “As Canadians, we do that anyway, so keep doing what you’re doing. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.”

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