WR organizations help Afghan refugees build new lives in the region

The effects of the Taliban’s defeat of the Afghanistan government last month are being felt worldwide, including in Waterloo Region. Organizations such as Reception House, the Kitchener Waterloo Community Foundation and Immigration Partnership Waterloo Region have mobilized to support new arrivals from Afghanistan with housing, education and other settlement support services.

Helen Loftin, director of Fundraising & Communications at Reception House Waterloo Region, said that over 120 refugees from Afghanistan have arrived in the region since the beginning of August. 

“The nature of the arrival has been a little bit more frenetic. Typically, when Reception House receives refugees, we get a notice of arrival from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada [IRCC] that would give two plus weeks to prepare for that arrival. It is very different from that in the Afghan context because we don’t always get those notices of arrivals. We have had a couple of times where we were told to go to the airport and pick up a family,” Loftin said.

Reception House is the local agency that implements support programs for government-assisted refugees for IRCC. Their programs provide financial assistance for accommodations, clothing, household necessities, and other living expenses. In addition to financial aid, Reception House also helps refugees with processes ranging from getting their social insurance numbers to opening a bank account. 

The majority of people that Reception House provides assistance to are brought here by the Government of Canada with a recommendation from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. The arrivals from Afghanistan are part of a government initiative created quickly in the wake of the Taliban seizing control.

“Everyone at Reception House has been keen to make sure that we can make this reception as smooth as possible and get them the best landing here in Canada. We’re all scrambling but spirits are high. We’re excited to help in whatever ways we can,” Loftin said.

Reception House supports new arrivals and refugees from other countries who were already scheduled to arrive in the region. The number of arrivals dropped during the pandemic but has increased to pre-pandemic levels with the easing of travel restrictions. Loftin said that the government was already looking at increasing the number of arrivals before the government collapsed in Afghanistan.

“The information we received was that those numbers were going to go up this year. Already, we have seen that pace start to tick up in May and June. On top of that, we have the Afghan arrivals, which has meant all of our resources are stretched,” Loftin said.

Funding for Reception House comes from both public and private sources. Loftin said a significant component of their work is finding housing and healthcare support for new arrivals. Increases in property prices and rent are making it difficult to find adequate housing options.  

Issues around housing affordability are top of mind for Elizabeth Heald, president & chief executive officer of the Kitchener-Waterloo Community Foundation. The organization is launching its Waterloo Region 2021 Vital Signs® Report on Affordable Housing this month to rally community engagement on an issue that affects everyone in the community.

“The problem has just been exacerbated because trying to find housing for people is such a challenge. Reception House does such an amazing job of welcoming newcomers, but it’s a short lived period of time that they are engaged with Reception House. Finding them a place to live in that period of time is going to be really challenging,” Heald said. 

Grants from the Kitchener Waterloo Community Foundation go to charitable organizations, including those that support refugee resettlement. However, the organization’s goals extend beyond solely providing financial assistance. 

“Our mission is not only helping through grants to organizations, but also in convening these important conversations, and creating these opportunities for the average citizen to be able to make a difference in the lives of refugees–whether it’s someone from Afghanistan or from another country and helping them–have a safe place to call home,” Heald said.

Community support through volunteerism and donations are crucial to helping Reception House support refugees in the region. 

“We really have such a wonderful community here in Kitchener-Waterloo. It’s unbelievable generosity. There is an outpouring of people wanting to help. Donations rose with people saying we want to help in some manner. Things are happening and the outlook is good for these folks who are arriving because now they’re here and able to resettle and establish themselves here in our region—which is a wonderful place to be,” Loftin said.


Alex Kinsella is a freelance content marketer and writer based in Waterloo Region, Ontario. He's behind the TL;WR newsletter–Waterloo Region's weekly events newsletter. He's worked with some of Canada's most well known tech companies in roles including customer success, development, product management, PR, social media and marketing. Alex has contributed to publications including BetaKit, Grand Magazine and more.