Nfld. & Labrador·Video

Syrian refugees discover salt water joys in Newfoundland

Families of Syrian newcomers experienced many Newfoundland firsts, including rowing dories, tasting cod stew, learning to rind sticks, and touching live sea stars at the Fishing For Success location in Petty Harbour.

Newcomers call the island a safe haven for families

Syrian refugee families recently got their first taste of Newfoundland's salt air at Petty Harbour's Fishing for Success location.

The families rowed Grand Banks dories, tasted fishermen's cod stew, rinded sticks, and picked up live sea stars and sea urchins at the mini aquarium.

A group of refugees takes a trip around the inner harbour in Petty Harbour in a wooden Grand Banks dory. (CBC)

Sharing traditions

Fishing for Success is a non-profit group that shares and celebrates the traditional fishing knowledge and culture of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.

Syrian kids meet some of the province's sea creatures at the Petty Harbour Mini Aquarium. (CBC)

Kimberly Orren, the executive director of Fishing For Success, was thrilled to have so many families on site to share food, experience the ocean and learn some traditional fishing techniques. 

"Leo has been cooking his fish stew all day and we've invited the new Canadians to share our fishing heritage," she said.

Refugees burned their names into sticks that will later be incorporated into a building. (CBC)

Orren said the families were also put to work, rinding sticks that will be used in the construction of buildings on the property.

"They're going to carve their names in those sticks," she said. "So they'll be a part of this property, and then they'll symbolically always be a part of Newfoundland."

Happy to be on the island

Abir Zain was a teacher in Syria. Zain, her husband, and their five children have been living in St. John's for nine months. She said she's grateful.

"My husband's family [is] still living in Syria. They're my cousins. There's no electricity. It's really hard. [There are] no jobs and there's always bombing and fighting," she said.

Zain said the kindness of Newfoundlanders and the large number of friends they've made make her feel at home.

A refugee family enjoying the picnic supper at Petty Harbour's Fishing For Success. (CBC)

She said her eldest son Khalid loves his new school. 

"The teachers are nice and it's not just a school for learning, it's for fun and everything," he said.

His mother added the kids miss school during the weekends.

"My kids are sometimes crying on the weekends," Zain said. "They want to be in school every day."

Still facing challenges

Jose Rivera, the director of the Refugee Immigrant Advisory Council (RIAC) in St. John's, said there are about 2,000 refugees in Newfoundland and Labrador.

He said they appreciate the kindness of Newfoundlanders and the beautiful spaces, but still face many challenges. 

A refugee writes "welcome" in his own language on a sign in Petty Harbour. (CBC)

"The main challenges are access to information about how to go about finding a job, going back to university and gaining access to credentials. There's a family doctor, a lawyer and an insurance broker," said Rivera. 

"They are going to be facing real hardships to go back to their regular employment. Also public transportation. We want to stay here, but many people find it hard to move around." 

Rivera stressed that even though the economy is depressed right now in the province, it's important to keep welcoming newcomers. 

"The families that came here to the Fishing for Success and the [Petty Harbour] aquarium are already thinking about how to make businesses," he said. 

"They are already seeing raw materials that are an option to build new businesses that will provide employment for newcomers and for regular Newfoundlanders."

Rivera said RIAC has four enterprise companies, with employment for 60 to 80 people.

"We are bringing new ideas. We see opportunity here," he said.


Angela Antle

Host, Atlantic Voice

Angela is a producer who works from St. John's and is the host of Atlantic Voice, a Sunday morning documentary program on CBC Radio.