Nfld. & Labrador

As Syrian refugees seek asylum, refugees in Newfoundland share their stories

Refugees living in Newfoundland and Labrador shared their stories Friday on a special edition of the St. John’s Morning Show.
The St. John's Morning Show team had a remote on Friday benefiting The Association for New Canadians. 1:14

Tilak Chawan, who has been living in St. John's for four years, was forced to leave his home country of Bhutan at 4 years old because of his Nepali ethnicity.

For most of the first 24 years of his life, he was living in refugee camps.

"I can say that it was a really hard life we have been through," said Chawan. "So many days starving, so many days without food." 

Tilak Chawan has been living in Canada for four years. (CBC)

Refugees now living in Newfoundland and Labrador shared their stories Friday on a special edition of the St. John's Morning Show.

The Morning Show also collected school supplies with all donations going to the Association for New Canadians. 

It wasn't until Chawan had been in refugee camps for 20 years that his family was given the possibility of resettlement in Canada.

"We thought that, OK, this will be the solution for our lives, just to go there and live a peaceful sound life that every human being deserves."

He still doesn't forget his time in the camps, a struggle that remains hard to quantify to those who haven't experienced it.

"When I was talking to my dad, he reminded me that only a mother who bares a baby knows how painful it will be."

Chawan has settled into St. John's and now works for the Association for New Canadians where he helps new immigrant students adjust to their new surroundings and transition into the school system.

Students fast adjusted

The St. John's Morning Show collected donations of school supplies for the Association of New Canadians. (CBC)

One of those new students who had to adjust to a new environment is Sumitra Subedi.

Subedi came to Newfoundland at age 11, in May of 2009.

She was born into a refugee camp in Bhutan, and spent 11 years there.

For most of her life, she lived in conditions of instability — worrying about whether or not poor weather would wipe the roof out from over her head.

Her family had to build bamboo houses, and go to a tap to get water.

When Subedi arrived in Newfoundland, the stability and new environment was foreign to her.

"When I first came here, I didn't speak a word of English," said Suvetti.

"We had one interpreter from Nepal, he would [translate for] me." 

Now 17, she's well adjusted to her new environment.

"It's awesome compared to there."

Syria crisis "really breaks my heart" says Chawan

Arriving in Newfoundland has made many of the refugees thankful of the government support they received during their relocation.

But many of them are also keeping their eyes glued on the situation abroad in Syria.

Tilak Chawan thinks that Newfoundlanders have a responsibility to bring refugees into the province.

"Every human being in this world deserves to live their life."

"It's an issue of humanity," says Chawan.

He knows firsthand the life-changing nature of being granted a place to live in this province.

"You have welcomed me, every time I see that welcoming face on you guys, it really makes me feel that, 'Oh my God, this is the dream I want to live in.'"


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