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Entrepreneur helping Afghans who fled Taliban lauded as ‘shining example of Canadian compassion’

September 19, 2021

By Globe and Mail

A Toronto property developer who has worked tirelessly to help hundreds of people fleeing the Taliban settle in Canada – spending $50,000 to buy them essential supplies – has been praised as a “shining example of Canadian compassion” by the Immigration Minister.

Wais Habibzai, who fled to Canada from Afghanistan in 1992 after his house was destroyed by a rocket, has launched a personal aid effort to provide clothes and other necessities for refugees who escaped Kabul.

About 1,000 refugees are being provided with food and accommodation by the government as they prepare to resettle in Canada, Mr. Habibzai said. But he said the refugees, isolating in several Toronto hotels, lack many essentials, including clean underclothes, phones and baby bottles.

Many of the refugees arrived with only the clothes on their backs and Mr. Habibzai has been buying them outfits from Walmart.

The Afghan-Canadian businessman has turned conference rooms in refugee hotels into repositories for clothing and necessities, recruiting dozens of people to volunteer as translators and help fund the aid effort.

He has made daily trips to local stores to buy underwear, shoes, jeans and shirts, bottles and baby formula and personal hygiene products. He has also bought chocolate, candy and toys for children, as well as prayer mats, and hijabs for some older women.

Mr. Habibzai, 40, said he is delighted to see young refugees, who arrived in traditional Afghan attire, walking around Toronto hotels “as true Canadians” in jeans and T-shirts emblazoned with the Canadian flag.

“Some came with [traditional clothes]. The next day they were wearing the shoes I gave them: the T-shirts, jeans. I went to Walmart and bought them some T-shirts with the Canada flag. They loved it. They were walking about as true Canadians,” he said.

“Teenagers, 20- to 22-year-olds – they want to be modern.”

Marco Mendicino, Minister for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, said welcoming the Afghans “wouldn’t be possible without the generosity of Wais and so many others like him.”

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