Nfld. & Labrador

N.L. welcomes 116 Afghan refugees in single flight to St. John's

An airplane carrying 116 Afghan refugees arrived in St. John's late Tuesday night, the first group to land in Canada outside Calgary or Toronto.

'They're extremely grateful and enthusiastic to be in Newfoundland and Labrador,' says immigration minister

The sign above the door at St. John's International Airport which reads "St. John's International Airport".
An airplane with 116 Afghan refugees arrived in St. John's on Tuesday night. (CBC)

More than 100 Afghan refugees fleeing the Taliban have arrived in St. John's, according to Newfoundland and Labrador's immigration minister.

In the House of Assembly on Wednesday, Gerry Byrne announced the arrival of 116 refugees Tuesday night, and said the federal government will provide resettlement supports for the next year or longer as required.

"I think that really reflects an attitude and point of view of the government of Canada that this is a very welcoming place and this is a place that they have great confidence in the resettlement of the refugees knowing they're in very good hands," Byrne told reporters after question period. 

The group consists of young families, Byrne said, whose English language skills are "very high." Among them are Afghans who worked with Canadian and NATO-led efforts in Afghanistan to create security, educate children and build infrastructure to improve the quality of life in their home country.

Byrne said the newcomers will work with the Association for New Canadians and with the provincial government to prepare to welcome newly arriving children to schools and provide support to find housing for the families.

"They're extremely grateful and enthusiastic to be in Newfoundland and Labrador. Word from those who travelled with them and those who greeted them at the airport … last night, was that there was just magic in the airport," he said. 

"I think this is going to be a really positive experience, not only for them, but for each and every one of us in the province."

Immigration Minister Gerry Byrne says the new arrivals landed around 10 p.m. (Mark Quinn/CBC)

Byrne said Eastern Health staff, along with the federal Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada department were at the airport in St. John's to help process the new arrivals. He said the arrivals went directly from the airport to the locations where they will be in COVID-19 isolation.

Byrne said Newfoundland and Labrador had already welcomed 41 other Afghan refugees before Tuesday night's arrival, but not in a single, large group. 

Newfoundland and Labrador, the only province in Canada where the population is declining, is hoping to attract 5,100 immigrants annually by 2026.

The Association for New Canadians have scheduled a media availability Thursday to discuss the arrivals.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Mark Quinn