Nfld. & Labrador

Refugee meet and greet a break from loneliness, isolation

Refugee families new to St. John's are often lonely and isolated, says the Refugee Immigrant Advisory Council which organized a 'meet and greet' at a city sportsplex Tuesday.
Masri Anthafi and his family arrived in the province on New Year's Day. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

Refugee families new to St. John's are often lonely and isolated, says the Refugee Immigrant Advisory Council which organized a meet and greet at a city sports centre Tuesday.

Nine families from Syria took part in the session at the Newfoundland and Labrador Sports Centre on Crosbie Road.

"They're all in different apartments all over the city and they don't have cars or English classes or jobs yet," said Natasha Blackwood, social co-ordinator with the advisory council.

"A lot of them are quite isolated at this moment, so we're trying to plan some community activities to alleviate some of that," she said. "It's really nice to see them running and laughing and smiling and being happy. It's beautiful."

A sense of community is what Syrian refugees need in St. John's, according to volunteers who work with the group. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

Getting used to the cold

Masri Anthafi arrived in St. John's with his wife and four children on New Year's Day.

A lot of them are grateful to be here in a safe place, but what's lacking right now is a sense of community- Natasha Blackwood

"The people here are good and lovely and smiling. We love that too much," he said.

"Sometimes there is somebody to take us to stores, and to Rooms and to Signal Hill. We get good time and fun ...Most of time, we are inside because weather is so cold."

During the social outing Tuesday, the children played with toys and sports equipment, while the hijab-wearing woman chatted among themselves.

"I think a lot of them are grateful to be here in a safe place, but what's lacking right now is a sense of community," said Blackwood.

Natasha Blackwood is social co-ordinator with the Refugee Immigrant and Advisory Council. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

"When they come from a densely populated area with all their extended family and then you end up by yourself in a little apartment on Torbay Road and you don't know anyone or speak the language, it can get really lonely."

Blackwood said it is unusual for so many refugee families to come to the province from the same place.

'This is first time I feel human'

But she said they come from different backgrounds.

"They're engineers, doctors, teachers, blue collar workers — they're from all walks of life," she said.

But there are obstacles to settling in.

"No driver's license, you can't get work because your credentials are not recognized, you can't get a job because you don't speak the language."  

Masri Anthafi said two of his girls, age 12 and nine, are in school and learning English.

"I'm a lucky man because I get a chance to come to here," he said. "I feel welcome. In fact, this is first time I feel human."

Gatherings like this are an important way to socialize for all generations. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

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