Skip to content

'They need help': Coquitlam man says Afghan refugees desperately need housing, jobs

Hundreds are arriving in B.C., but are they getting the help they need? If allowed, Sultan Faizi believes his association could do more to assist with jobs, clothing and food.

The plight of Afghan refugees fleeing the Taliban appears to have been knocked out of recent headlines by the Russia-Ukraine war.

However, hundreds of Afghan families have arrived in B.C. in the last several months, seeking shelter, jobs and hope.

But a Coquitlam man who heads up an association supporting Afghan-Canadians in the province says hope is very much in short supply as newcomers wait to get on with their lives.

"They don’t have any plan for the future," says Sultan Faizi, president of the Afghan Canadian Association of BC, in an interview with the Tri-City News.

He says he gets multiple calls daily from Afghan refugees staying in temporary housing at Vancouver's Century Plaza Hotel, where more than 80 people are currently living, including women, children and teenagers.

The Afghan Canadian Association of BC has a Facebook page, but many of the newcomers find Faizi's contact information on Google.

His phone is full of photos of numbers and names hastily scrawled on scrap paper with the goal of getting immediate help from someone in the Afghan community, who, like Faizi, were once refugees now settled in Canada.

"They need housing, most of them want to find a place to live," adds Faizi.

Afghan refugee crisis grown since Taliban take-over

For decades, Faizi's group has been a lifeline for Afghan newcomers to B.C. and says it is ready and willing to help find housing, jobs and other necessities for recent arrivals.

Faizi, who came to Canada with his wife and children in 1998, explains he has personally helped hundreds of Afghan refugees get settled in the Lower Mainland.

But as the refugee crisis has grown — with Canada agreeing to accept 40,000 Afghan refugees — some cracks in the promise are starting to appear.

According to Faizi, the main service provider, Immigrant Services Society of BC (ISS), doesn't have settlement workers who speak Pashto and Dari while his group can draw on multiple people who can provide translation services, including for other Afghan dialects.

On Sunday (May 29), Faizi claimed he was prevented from speaking to refugees and told to leave the Century Plaza Hotel.

"I was very upset," says Faizi, who said ISS has not given him any official status to speak to the Afghan refugees, despite the group's long-standing role in the community.

Faizi believes his association should be allowed to help the newcomers, and as president, he should be the official representative.

"People are complaining because the settlement workers won’t help them."

Afghan Canadian Association of BC wants to help

In addition to official recognition by ISS of BC as a supporting organization, Faizi believes Ottawa should provide his group with funding to pay for the services of a settlement worker who can help Afghan refugees settle in places like the Tri-Cities.

An ISS spokesperson said volunteers are welcome to connect with refugees but can't come unannounced, and refugees' privacy is protected for safety.

Chris Friesen, who is the chief operating officer for ISS of BC, said the organization is willing to work with Faizi's group to find ways to support people arriving in Vancouver from Afghanistan.

"He was invited to speak to two of our staff to arrange a time to come. He had mentioned that he had volunteers and housing and we are planning to connect with him to see how the association can work together with us to support Afghans," Friesen stated in an email to the Tri-City News

Refugees arriving in Vancouver are also facing some of the highest housing costs in the country.

The federal government provides assistance to refugees through the Resettlement Assistance Program, but it's not enough to pay for housing, he says.

ISS operates two welcome centres and links newcomers to language programs, banking help, medical assistance, jobs and housing, according to its website.

It's an accredited organization that has operated for 50 years in B.C., working with multiple agencies to provide supports. Its website also has a graphic that shows how refugees are welcomed and provided supports and help with finding permanent housing.

Canada committed to resettling 40,000 Afghan refugees

Meanwhile, Faizi is growing increasingly frustrated with the situation and feels his organization is being denied important information about arrivals that would allow members of his community to assist.

This would potentially include providing a welcome package of clothing, toys and diapers.

"I don’t know when they are coming or going. They don’t like other people helping the refugees because I’m working for free," says Faizi, adding he's expecting more people will need help in the months to come.

"Some have been living there [in temporary shelter] for six months. They have to be able to choose what they want for the future, the have to get jobs, they have to study.

"I don't want these people to be on welfare for the rest of their lives. My association the one who is helping all the people."

Meanwhile, ISS has put together a list of resources for Afghan refugees, and information about how B.C. residents can assist.