Afghan refugee welcomes Ukrainians fleeing war
The wrenching violence and heartbreaking scenes of separation in Ukraine look familiar to Mohammed Ebrahim.
“If you want to go out from your house, you are not sure… that you will come back.”
Ebrahim, 29, fled his home country in 2016 and just arrived in Canada in January. He spent the interceding years in a refugee camp in Indonesia where he said he felt “hopeless.”
His arduous journey stands in contrast to what many political leaders have promised for Ukrainians.
Saskatchewan immigration minister Jeremy Harrison stated previously the province would welcome an “unlimited” number of Ukrainian refugees. In an interview on Focus Saskatchewan, he said those who arrive should have a path to permanency.
But Ebrahim said he wasn’t upset with any governments for seemingly doing more to bring Ukrainians to Canada than Afghans, and Afghans who served alongside Canadian soldiers.
What’s important, he said, is people get the help.
“If the Government of Canada will bring me from the refugee camp, it’s OK because I’m safe,” he said.
“(Ukrainians fleeing the violence) are not safe. They are urgent.”
The CEO of the Saskatoon Open Door Society (SODS), which helped resettle Ebrahim along with many other newcomers over the past 40 years, agreed.
But he said good intentions need to be inclusive.
“Human suffering is human suffering. It doesn’t really matter who is fleeing, right, and how they look like or who they are and what faith or what a belief system are people come from,” Ali Abukar told Global News.
“This is not to take away from the difficulties that people are facing and the need for protection and safety. But there are the questions that are raised about other people who need similar protection, other refugees.”
Provincial officials say the government is bringing so many people from Ukraine, as opposed to fewer people from Afghanistan or Syria in recent years, because the former will find the transition easier.
About 13 per cent of people in the province have Ukrainian heritage and so can share a culture and, in some cases, a language.
Abukar said it is helpful for new arrivals to have connections but he also stressed it is important to still accept as many who don’t.
It also depends on how they arrive and how long they are permitted to stay.
Many refugees, like people fleeing Afghanistan, will hope and apply to stay permanently.
And they can arrive in different ways. Some may be resettled, meaning they claimed refugee status in one country and another later allows them in, like Ebrahim.
They may also claim refugee status in Canada.
Most people the Canadian government will welcome from Ukraine will actually be temporary residents and will be expected to leave after three years.
Abukar said that is a quicker and easier method to allow people into a country.
The head of the Saskatchewan branch of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, a cultural group working with SODS to settle Ukrainians, said temporary residency is “a completely different commitment that the government takes on when it brings refugees into the country.”
Supporting the government’s position that Saskatchewan’s demography would help Ukrainian refugees, Danylo Puderak told Global News many fleeing Ukraine likely won’t speak English well and therefore won’t be able to integrate into the workforce easily.
The son of people who fled Ukraine after the Second World War, he said the federal and provincial governments can still help more people.
“We can always do more. I think we learn each time,” he said.
Ebrahim said he hopes that applies to people still in Afghanistan.
He keeps in contact with most of his friends and family. He doesn’t know where some are and said he worries about all of them.
He said he hoped the Canadian government is willing to welcome other people for whom war has decided so much.
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