Nfld. & Labrador

With 116 Afghan refugees safely in St. John's the real work begins

In a parish hall in St. John's, the Association for New Canadians is helping newcomers adjust to life in N.L.

Association for New Canadians ready to help newcomers adjust to life in N.L.

Afghan refugees arrive in St. John's, on Oct. 26, 2021. (Ritche Perez/Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada)

In a parish hall in St. John's, the Association for New Canadians' director of settlement services, Suzy Haghighi, surveys tables filled with donations for the newly arrived refugees, while rhyming off a list of things the group will need in the coming weeks.

"We are hoping for some new kettles," she said Thursday. "Slippers to help keep their feet warm while they acclimatize to the colder environment."

News of the arrival of 116 Afghan refugees came from a government minister during Wednesday's sitting of the House of Assembly.

As the world watched the drama unfold in Afghanistan over the summer, the Canadian government pledged to find new homes thousands of refugees. 

That led to Tuesday night at the St. John's International Airport, and an emotional experience for those on the plane and on the ground.

"It was incredibly moving," said the ANC's executive director, Megan Morris. "I've been in this business for a long time and I don't think I have seen something like this."

A support team greets Afghan refugees, as they arrive in St. John's, Oct. 26, 2021. (Ritche Perez/Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada)

After an estimated 24-hour journey, they arrived tired and wary, but according to Antwone Aslan — who boarded the plane to greet them — they were also happy to be here.

"Everybody seemed so hopeful," he said. "Obviously, they were tired because they were travelling for a very long time, but the mood was amazing."

But a large group like that landing at once takes planning and requires a lot of work. 

"The last few days have been extremely hectic," said Morris. "It's been a whirlwind of activity."

The ANC said they've been preparing for this for weeks, but didn't say much about the age range or genders of the people.

"They're certainly a young and warm, happy group," Morris said. "Happy to be here safely."

The ANC has lots of toys at the ready because some of the refugees are children. (Jeremy Eaton/CBC)

The newcomers were checked out by a health-care team upon their arrival, and were then taken to a St. John's hotel to  quarantine.

"The biggest challenge, I think, is just making sure that there's time and patience available for people so they can rest and recover," said Morris.

While the Afghans do their best to acclimatize to St. John's — something Morris said hasn't been easy, as the hotel thermostat only goes to 25 C, which hasn't been warm enough for some of them — the ANC is preparing its next steps.

That involves doing an intake assessment, and beginning an intensive case management program, which can take four to six weeks.

"We usually receive between three and four hundred refugees a year and we always do find housing for them," said Morris. "Housing is a challenging issue but we're pretty creative."

In this image provided by the U.S. Marine Corps, families board a U.S. Air Force Boeing C-17 Globemaster III during ongoing evacuations at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Kabul, Afghanistan, Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2021. (Sgt. Samuel Ruiz/U.S. Marine Corps via AP) (Sgt. Samuel Ruiz/U.S. Marine Corps/The Associated Press)

In the coming weeks the ANC will work to get the children into school, and get those who can't speak English into classes to learn and find jobs.

The goal is to make sure they feel comfortable enough to stay, and call St. John's home.

While the St. Pius Parish is full of clothes and some household items, the ANC knows more will be needed. At this point the group is asking for new or gently used goods or gift cards. 

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