Afghan Refugees: How can we Respond?

Lorna Johnston
November 23 2021


As the headlines report the latest violence in Afghanistan, it appears that the humanitarian crisis there will continue as the Taliban fight it out with Islamic State affiliate IS-K for control of the country. The Afghan people, suffering again, face starvation as winter approaches.

Certainly, it is a time to pray. Certainly, it is a time to advocate. Certainly, it is a time to support those organizations who are still able to find ways to make a difference for the people in Afghanistan.

But it’s also an opportunity to respond to the growing opportunity here.

The Afghan community in Canada is relatively new. There were only about 1,000 Afghans in Canada prior to the military coup in 1978 that led to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Since then, the population has grown with each wave of in-country turmoil. The 2016 census counted 84,000 Afghans in Canada, a number that is sure to have grown since then. Most have lived in Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver.

New Afghan Refugees

With the recent upheaval in Afghanistan, the Canadian government committed to accept 20,000 refugees. Later they doubled that number to 40,000. Committing to settle 40,000 is ‘easy said, hard done’, but there has been a recent surge of arrivals.

According to the government site Supporting Afghan nationals: Key figures -, as of October 28:

13,640 special immigration program applications have been received and 9,465 have been approved.

3260 people have arrived in Canada under the special immigration program for Afghans who assisted the Government of Canada. Of those, 2760 have finished quarantine and are in their destination community.

Now they are in our neighbourhoods.

  • 380 in Vancouver
  • 250 in Calgary
  • 90 in Edmonton
  • 50 in Winnipeg
  • 195 in Hamilton
  • 20 in Kingston
  • 150 in Kitchener
  • 150 in London
  • 160 in Mississauga
  • 225 in Ottawa
  • 80 in Peterborough
  • 20 in Thunder Bay
  • 820 in Toronto
  • 40 in Windsor
  • 15 in Brossard
  • 20 in Gatineau
  • 30 in Montreal
  • 15 in Sherbrooke
  • 15 in Saint John
  • 30 in Halifax
  • 25 in Charlottetown
  • 35 in St. John’s

Several hundred others are scattered in smaller numbers in other communities, and several hundred more are awaiting their final destination.

Having lived through a tumultuous evacuation, many are now stranded in hotel rooms, caught in a processing log jam that is impacting their ability to secure housing—with landlords requiring proof of income before allowing them to move in. While the number in hotels is fluid recent reports give 770 near the Toronto airport and another 300 in Ottawa.

The government has confirmed that another 5000 Afghan refugees will be arriving in Canada via the US airlift. 

The remainder of the 40,000 pledged will arrive more gradually and be resettled under the usual combination of processes—government sponsorship, organization sponsorship, group of 5, etc.

Evacuating Christian Afghans

The government has identified target groups, among them: women leaders, human rights defenders, journalists, individuals who identify as LGBTI, and people with ties to Canada.

But another group has been the focus of a huge evacuation effort by one from our LMT Network.

Obed, along with the whole Jesus Network team have managed to evacuate over 500 Christian Afghans who were hiding in safe houses around the country. They are now in a different country and will likely be processed as privately sponsored refugees to Canada. They are asking for help to make this possible. You can find out more from them: Jesus Network - Afghan Refugees 

Certainly, it is a time to…

Certainly, it is a time to pray. Certainly, it is a time to advocate for refugees here in Canada. Certainly, it is a time to support those organizations who are actively working to bring and settle refugees here in Canada.

The Church in Canada stepped up to help settle Syrian refugees. Let’s do it again!

Are you involved in supporting Afghan refugees? Tell us your story!

Lorna Johnston is the Diaspora Ministries Leader at Outreach Canada. She leads two national teams--Loving Muslims Together (LMT) and Simply Mobilizing Canada (SMC). She works with teams of diverse and experienced leaders and ministries across Canada to alert and activate the church in Canada to the changing opportunities to engage God's mission right here in Canada.


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