Women’s shelters serving immigrants open in Calgary and Edmonton

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WATCH: Living with domestic abuse is terrifying, but it can be even more isolating if you’re alone in Canada and English isn’t your first language. As Carolyn Kury de Castillo reports, a new transition house in Calgary will serve Muslim, immigrant and refugee women and children facing those struggles. – Dec 10, 2019

A women’s transition home that helps meet the needs of immigrant families is now open in Calgary.

It’s operated by Nisa Homes, which provides long-term shelters for immigrant, refugee and Muslim women who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.

The women staying in the rooms of the northwest Calgary home each have stories of trauma that most of us would have a hard time imagining.

“[One woman] was finally able to get the police involved, but at that time, he chose to leave her,” said Saima Mafat, the Nisa Calgary house manager.
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“So she literally had no status in Canada. She was pregnant at the time, and she went through a pregnancy and delivery at a shelter.”

READ MORE: Calgary shelter sees jump in domestic abuse against women

Mafat will never forget the young Muslim woman who stayed the home this summer who was abandoned by her family overseas and her husband in Canada.

“Her ex would threaten her with stuff like, ‘Nobody’s going to give you a job. No one will give you status here. You’ll have to go back,'” Mafat recalled.

Nisa Homes operates six transition homes in Canada, including ones recently opened in Calgary and Edmonton. All are funded by a Muslim charity called the National Zakat Foundation.

“We really understand how these women need support. There’s no one there to help them. And our community, we do need to step up,” said Maria Arshad, an advisor to the board at the National Zakat Foundation.

Arshad said there has been a demand for services like Nisa Homes long before they opened in March 2019.

“Before we started, we had some clients who didn’t leave their situation until we opened. So they waited for us to open,” she said. “And they would call us, ‘Are you open yet?’”

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READ MORE: How Give Me Shelter donations helped an Edmonton woman escaping her abusive marriage: ‘We felt that love’

Arshad said there were gaps in the services provided by existing women’s shelters. Often, they would lack the cultural or religious understanding to be able to serve the unique needs of immigrant and refugee women.

“You don’t know who you can trust and who you can’t trust. It’s really hard for them,” Arshad said.

“Language may be an issue. They don’t understand the systems. It’s not just one single thing; it all adds up. And there are times when the family decides they don’t want to support them through the transition. I think that adds to the challenge. It all compounds the problem.”

The case workers at Nisa Homes speak Arabic and Urdu. Clients have told staff that being around people who understand them goes a long way in their healing process. They feel like they are not alone and they don’t have to explain themselves.

Arshad said staying at Nisa Homes has made it easier for women escaping domestic abuse to focus on healing and moving past the difficult time in their lives.

READ MORE: New women’s domestic abuse shelter supports Calgary’s newcomers

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As for the Calgary woman Mafat remembers so well, she’s now back on her feet with the help of Nisa Homes case workers. Her two children are enrolled in preschool. She has her own place and a part-time job.

“To see the strength in this lady — it takes courage to go through this and to be able to get out of this,” Mafat said.

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