When hard-work bears fruit: Afghan Response Initiative

April 4, 2024

By: Lindsay Burlie, Settlement Worker, Afghan Response Initiative -Private Sponsorship of Refugees program

Refugee Rights Day (April 4) marks a time to bring attention to rights of refugees and learn about how Canada upholds the rights, and protections of those seeking a new life in search of safety. MOSAIC works to uphold refugees’ rights while assisting them in their settlement needs in Canada.

December 16, 2023, was a truly unforgettable day for the Afghan Response Initiative (ARI) at MOSAIC.

Our program welcomed approximately 50 newcomer arrivals at Vancouver International Airport (YVR) on a chartered flight from Pakistan. These newcomers arrived with Permanent Residence, sponsored by their families here in Metro Vancouver through MOSAIC’s Private Sponsorship of Refugees program.

My day on December 16, started in the early hours of the morning. I periodically checked the status of the chartered flight, ensuring that the co-sponsors and I would arrive at the airport at the correct time to receive the newcomers from immigration. I drove to the airport at 7:30 a.m., crossing the Arthur Laing bridge to YVR airport as the sun rose.

Tears welled in my eyes from the relief and gratitude of what the day would bring.

The arrivals represent the culmination of a great effort that for me, an employee of the Afghan Response Initiative started on my first day at MOSAIC in September, 2022. I had worked with our team on the submissions to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) for these arrivals and I was privileged to have worked on their refugee case narratives. I knew of their need to reunite in safety with their families in Canada and the sacrifices, and hardships they have endured to get here, especially after the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in 2021.

I arrived at YVR delightfully surprised to see the family and friends of the arrivals, which filled nearly half of the international arrivals waiting area. I connected with the many familiar faces – I knew their families here in Metro Vancouver well, as they had been working with our team as co-sponsors for private refugee sponsorship. These co-sponsors worked tirelessly with our ARI team to submit the applications for sponsorship to IRCC.

Watching the arrivals leave immigration and reunite with their families was an experience that cannot be fully explained in words. I saw little children, cousins who have never met, run to hug each other. There were adult siblings who have not seen each other in over 10 years. Mothers who were sponsored by their children in Metro Vancouver embraced, safe at last. Emotions surged, laughter and tears were shared. There was the pure joy of family reunification, a sadness of the time and trauma endured apart and a strong feeling of hope for the future moving forward.

As I watched, I felt in my heart how this day was an important part of a family’s story that would be remembered and told as a part of their family story for generations to come. The ARI team is so grateful to have been a part of this important journey in our clients’ lives. We know that the success of our program is measured by the unity and safety it brings to the Afghan families we sponsor, the Afghan community in Metro Vancouver and the subsequent generations of their families.

The Afghan Response Initiative has brought over 200 refugees to safety in Canada with Permanent Residence. Over 90 of these newcomers arrived in December 2023 and January 2024 after the recent devasting deportations of refugees in Pakistan and Iran.

We continue to take pride in the ability of our program to sponsor refugees with no form of identification or Refugee Status Determination, effectively sponsoring the world’s most vulnerable refugees. Not only have we been able to sponsor vulnerable refugees, but our program has reunited these refugees with their families here in B.C. This has contributed to not only the improvement of the lives of the refugees but also of their families and Afghan community here in Metro Vancouver.

Our team looks forward to the arrivals of over 200 refugees, for which we have submitted applications to IRCC and to receiving approvals for the applications we will be submitting in 2024.