Nfld. & Labrador

Donations pour in for newly arrived Afghan refugees in St. John's

Local organizations have a number of programs running to help the arrivals settle into their new lives.

As the refugees prepare for life in Canada, the St. John's community works to ease the transition

A newly landed refugee waves a Canada flag outside St. John's International Airport on Oct. 26. (Submitted by Ritchie Perez/Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada)

As newly arrived Afghan refugees settle into their new lives in Newfoundland and Labrador, community groups are rallying to make their transition as smooth as possible.

Following the arrival of the 116 refugees in St. John's last week, the Association for New Canadians has been flooded with donations, to the point the organization has had to ask the public to hold off on donating clothes.

"It was really something to see," said Alice Keough, the association's community connections co-ordinator.

"Even before the doors opened, there was a lineup of cars in the parking lot and there has been every day that we've been open.… I don't recall ever having experienced anything like this before."

From blankets and towels to toys and school supplies, Keough said, donations help ensure newcomers have everything they need for a new life, in a new climate.

"We're very, very fortunate to have the generosity of this community."

Refugees forced to flee Afghanistan make their way into St. John's International Airport. (Ritche Perez/Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada)

A warm welcome, but a hard journey

The Muslim Association of Newfoundland and Labrador is working on a plan to welcome the new arrivals into their home community.

The association's president, Syed Pirzada, said it's been a difficult journey for the refugees, who were forced to flee their country after the Taliban overthrew the government this summer.

"You can understand how traumatized one can be."

Pirzada said the association will be available to offer advice and guidance on everyday needs like accessing health care, and to assist with language and cultural learning, which he said can be one of the biggest struggles for new immigrants.

"The first thing is to learn English as much as possible and as quickly as possible," he said. 

A career in cuisine

Many newly landed immigrants are eager to find meaningful work, and that is the goal of Cook to Connect, a new ANC program that brings together participants — and dishes — from different countries in the goal of building skills and experience in the area of food service.

Amr Alagouza, social enterprise project manager for the ANC, says the program targets newcomers who are "passionate about food" and aspire to work in that industry. 

After grasping the basic culinary terminology and skills such as knife handling, students do a six-month stint as an ANC caterer before moving on into their careers.

The current program counts seven students from countries like Syria, Morocco and Egypt. Getting to sample their many dishes, like Nigerian jollof rice and molokhia soup, Maunder said, has been an "eye-opening experience."

"I absolutely love it," she said.

Afghan refugees get a warm welcome at St. John's International Airport. (Ritche Perez/Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada)

A priceless gift

While many newcomers need essential goods and services upon arriving in their new country, donations made to organizations such as the ANC can facilitate immigration process, and this past week the ANC received a significant one from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1620 — to the tune of $30,000.

Megan Morris, executive director of the ANC, said it was "an incredibly meaningful" donation.

"It may take someone years to raise the amount of money to sponsor family members," she said. "This money will mean that [process] is expedited completely and can be put in place almost immediately."

Don Murphy, the union's business manager and financial secretary, said helping Afghan refugees was a priority for that organization.

"They've landed on a new land, in a new country, on a new continent. I can't even imagine what that must feel like," he said. "But just be able to be in this position, it's a good place to be."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from On The Go and The St. John's Morning Show.