The New Arrivals

Over the past two years, Canada has welcomed a record number of immigrants. Here are some of their stories.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY IAN BROWN INTERVIEWS BY CARLY PEWS
Newcomers_Homepage

June 27, 2024

Every day, thousands of immigrants land at Pearson airport in Mississauga, Ontario. Some come on temporary work visas, others on international-student permits. Some are on a pathway to permanent residency, while others claim refugee status as soon as they arrive at customs. All of them want safety, prosperity and freedom. To document these newcomers in their first few months in Canada, photojournalist Ian Brown spent weeks reaching out to settlement agencies, refugee centres and community groups. He met people fleeing the Taliban in Afghanistan, Ukrainian refugees who left their families in a war zone and young professionals from India seeking better education and job prospects. He criss-crossed the Greater Toronto Area, photographing them in the neighbourhoods they now call home. “Everyone I met was resolved and committed to bettering their lives and integrating into Canadian society,” he says.

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Rashid Rashidi and Gulshan Mosleh

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: Afghanistan
ARRIVED IN CANADA: June 2022

Rashidi and Mosleh left Afghanistan with their son when the government collapsed and they no longer felt safe. They lived in Macedonia before landing at Pearson airport and claiming refugee status. At first, they couldn’t find an apartment. For the first five months, they stayed in hotels close to the airport. Now they live in Toronto’s Thorncliffe Park neighbourhood, although their apartment has bed bugs. “Back home, I was a videographer and my wife had a master’s degree and worked for the ministry of the interior,” Rashidi says. “Now, neither of us can find jobs.”

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Marta Hrek

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: Ukraine
ARRIVED IN CANADA: July 2022

Back home in Kyiv, Hrek woke up one morning to the sounds of air raids and explosions. “Events unfolded around me like in an American action movie,” she says. She left Ukraine and, after travelling through Poland, Portugal and Berlin, landed in Toronto. She was lucky to have friends in Canada. One helped her find a room for rent and open a bank account. Others helped her write a resumé and look for a job. Hrek now works at a biochemical lab in London, Ontario. Her biggest challenge will be getting permanent residency. “The government puts up a lot of obstacles. They calculate everything: are you married, do you have Canadian education, do you have Canadian work experience,” she says. “I feel safe now. I see my future here, and I hope it will become reality.

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Iryna Kukhta

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: Ukraine
ARRIVED IN CANADA: November 2022

In May of 2022, Kukhta came to Canada to do a short internship. Her hometown of Kyiv was a war zone, and so she returned to Toronto just a few months later. An organization helping Ukrainian refugees set her up in a motel in Mississauga. It was hard to find a place: rent was expensive, and people were asking for proof of income and employment, which she didn’t have. Eventually, Kukhta found an apartment on Facebook Marketplace. She now works as an usher for the Canadian Opera Company and for an NGO that helps newcomers at the Toronto Public Library. It’s hard to get PR unless you work in health care or other skilled industries, she says. “But when I realize how bad things are in Ukraine, I don’t have anything to complain about.”

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Huiping Chen

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: China
ARRIVED IN CANADA: June 2023

Chen grew up in poverty in the Dabie Mountains of Anhui province and dropped out of school after junior high. He later moved to Shanghai and earned a law degree. He moved with his children to Canada last year so they could get a better education. He now works as an independent life insurance broker for Mandarin-speaking clients and provides free tax services for new immigrants with the Canada Revenue Agency. “My challenge now is to improve my English skills as quickly as possible so that I can serve more clients.”

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Priya Gina Mathias

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: India
ARRIVED IN CANADA: January 2023

Mathias and her family are originally from Mumbai, but they moved to Singapore for her husband’s work a few years ago. Expat life was hard for them: everything was expensive, and they wanted their two kids to get a better education. Mathias came to Canada as an international student, but it took her husband four months to find work. Employers wanted Canadian experience, which was hard to come by when he’d arrived from a different country. Eventually, he found work at a bank. “I felt that Canada welcomed us with open arms,” Mathias says. “It doesn’t matter where you come from. If you’re a PR, you’re a Canadian. I get all the benefits every Canadian gets.”

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Fred Bwanika

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: Uganda
ARRIVED IN CANADA: October 2023

In May of 2023, Bwanika’s home country of Uganda passed a law imposing life imprisonment for homosexual relationships and the death penalty for what it deems to be “aggravated homosexuality.” Bwanika is bisexual, and he’d previously been jailed for his sexuality, so he left his home and his family to avoid further persecution. He claimed asylum on arrival and has been living in a homeless shelter in Toronto ever since. His refugee hearing date hasn’t been set yet. “I pray so hard that the Almighty lets me stay here so I can have a better life,” he says. “Because I had lost hope, and now I have a second chance.”

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Marta Zanik

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: Ukraine
ARRIVED IN CANADA: September 2023

Zanik left Ukraine because life in a war zone was so uncertain. “You never knew what would happen tomorrow,” she says. It was hard to leave her mother and four siblings behind, but her father was already living in Canada, so she moved in with him in Mississauga. He is a roofer and sheet metal worker. Zanik was a physical therapist back home, and she’s tried to get her licence here, but it’s been a long and difficult process. Still, she says, she likes Canada. “It’s like a small world, because there are a lot of immigrants. It’s amazing how many people live together, and how many programs there are to help.”

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Aline Kamugunga

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: Burundi
ARRIVED IN CANADA: December 2023

Kamugunga and her young daughter left an unstable life in Burundi, first seeking refugee status in Hong Kong and later in Canada, where the Jewish Immigrant Aid Services helped them find accommodation in midtown Toronto. The organization continues to help Kamugunga with food, transportation and housing costs while she studies to become a massage therapist. “I am so grateful. When I arrived, JIAS volunteers were there at the airport waiting for me with a warm welcome and offering me a place to stay.”

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Ahmad Yaser Bik

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: Afghanistan
ARRIVED IN CANADA: July 2023

Bik fled Afghanistan for Pakistan when the Taliban took over in 2021. The Malala Foundation helped his family financially and paid for their tickets to Canada. There are nine of them in Canada now—Bik, his mom and his siblings. It was hard to find housing; he didn’t have a job, and they were newcomers with no credit history. Finally, they secured a three-bedroom house in Concord, Ontario. The landlord is from Iran, Bik says, and he rented them the house out of solidarity. “Right now I’m learning English as a second language,” Bik says. “When I came to Canada, my English was zero.”

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Jared Soares

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: India
ARRIVED IN CANADA: May 2023

Soares and his wife came here for better job opportunities—they wanted to be part of a global workforce. Before they arrived, they used a pre-arrival service to understand the kind of resumés and cover letters they’d need to find jobs. His wife now does environmental and social governance for KPMG, and he works in donor relations at the United Way. “Finding an apartment was difficult. Even though we had money in our Indian accounts, we were not accepted as applicants because we didn’t have a credit score,” he says. Eventually, they moved into a three-bedroom apartment with relatives and a friend. “We’re all living happily together.”

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Nataliya Yevusiak

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: Ukraine
ARRIVED IN CANADA: November 2022

In Ukraine, Yevusiak worked at a pharmaceutical company. After the war started, she realized she couldn’t have a safe or stable life there, so she and her husband came to Canada. They chose it because Yevusiak speaks English, and she’d already secured a job offer. Her husband spent a few months taking English classes and now works at a pharmaceutical company. “I never had a feeling that I was a foreigner or not welcome in Canada,” she says. “All I want is for the war to be over, so my family and friends and I can live peacefully.”


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This story appears in the July issue of Maclean’s. You can buy the issue here or subscribe to the magazine here.