A university neighbourhoods resident is playing a leading role in efforts to help a family immigrate to Canada after facing persecution in Afghanistan.
Claire Robson is the coordinator of Rainbow Bridge, which has been raising funds to help the family continue their escape from Afghanistan and make Canada their new home.
The family, which includes a mother and her six children, have been targeted by the Taliban due to their promotion of the rights of women and girls, Robson said.
The Taliban—which seized power in 2021 after the withdrawal of U.S. troops—has faced widespread criticism for placing limits on the schooling available to girls and threats against LGBTQ Afghanis.
Rainbow Bridge is part of a Vancouver-based organization called Rainbow Refugee, whose mission is to support refugees “seeking protection from persecution for sexual orientation, HIV status, and gender identity or expression.”
Robson said the group has sponsored the family, of which one member identifies as LGBTQ. The family has escaped Afghanistan and is now in a different country, which Robson said is not receptive to refugees.
She said immigration paperwork has been submitted to the Canadian government. While they wait for a response, Rainbow Bridge’s work continues.
“Money is the big thing right now,” she said.
The group estimates they’ll need $120,000 to complete the paperwork, find housing, provide food for the entire family for a year, and cover other expenses.
“This is the biggest family that we’ve ever brought here, so it’s a challenge. This is a huge amount of work,” she said. “We’re small, we’re resilient people. Most of us have some background in organizing. But you know, $120,000 is daunting.”
The group has found the family a doctor, furniture for their new home, and providers for trauma counselling and English lessons. However, more money is needed.
Fundraisers and the generosity of donors have allowed them to raise $80,000 so far—two thirds of the goal.
A recent fundraiser received support from Urban Fare, located in Lelem Village in the UBC Endowment Lands. The supermarket provided water and beverages at a fundraiser attended by roughly 300 people.
“That was really way above what we had expected— that gave us a big boost,” Robson said.
To help meet their fundraising goal, they have a few events planned, including an upcoming “Drag Queen Bingo” at the Russian Hall in east Vancouver on Oct. 28.
One of the biggest expenses will be housing.
“Can you imagine finding housing for a family of seven in Vancouver?” Robson said. “You know, it’s tempting to rush and find a place now, however, we don’t know where they want to live. We have to give the family agency.”
Robson’s group has been fortunate to have met the family online. To prepare for those chats, Robson said her group discussed what would be appropriate things to ask as they didn’t want to make assumptions or appear insensitive.
Those discussions have given the group plenty of insight about the family and have guided their work.
“One of the things we thought is we wanted to engage the kids. We didn’t want to have them left out,” she said. “We got to say hi to each of the kids, and one of the questions we asked was, what are you looking forward to when you come to Canada, thinking that they might say snow or freedom or, you know, not having to worry about being killed.”
“Continuing the fight for the rights of women and girls,” was the response from one child, Robson said.
To support Rainbow Bridge and learn more about their upcoming fundraisers, contact Claire Robson at clairerobson@ shaw.ca.