'We will accept them as our own': Sask. Afghan refugees receiving warm welcome

·3 min read
A CC-177 Globemaster aircraft carrying the first group of Afghan refugees being resettled in Canada lands in Toronto last month. (Rachael Allen/Canadian Armed Forces - image credit)
A CC-177 Globemaster aircraft carrying the first group of Afghan refugees being resettled in Canada lands in Toronto last month. (Rachael Allen/Canadian Armed Forces - image credit)

Even after more than 20 years, Sultan Ali Sadat can still remember the chills he felt the moment he landed in Canada as an Afghan refugee.

Dressed for summer weather that December evening — with $100 in his pocket, a pregnant wife and two young kids by his side — Sadat said the kindness of those in Saskatoon quickly warmed them up.

"We'll never forget that night," he said with a smile. "It was –44 C and we had nine families waiting in the airport to welcome us."

Now, with help from the rest of Saskatchewan's Afghan community, Sadat said he's prepared to return the favour.

"If there was no COVID, there would be 10 to 15 families who would be there to welcome each family from Afghanistan and support them," he said. "We're a small group … but we have big hearts."

As of Thursday, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada has confirmed 35 Afghan newcomers have settled in Saskatchewan, with the vast majority having relatives in the province.

Once their quarantine period is over and the COVID-19 tests are complete, Sadat said a group of Saskatchewan Afghans plan to help these families integrate into the community.

Omayra Issa/CBC News
Omayra Issa/CBC News

Hundreds of refugees on the way

So far this week, the Saskatoon Open Door Society (SODS) said it's welcomed more than 20 Afghan refugees, with another 200 to 300 expected over the next few months.

"They're doing OK. They're healthy, they're safe and they're quarantining right now," said Ali Abukar, the non-profit's CEO, on Wednesday.

Abukar said his team at SODS has been continuously working with its stakeholders — from those in the business community to landlords — to prepare for the influx of refugees.

"We've been hearing stories that some of these people don't have anything more than what they have on their bodies when it comes to clothing, so it's a lot of basic needs," he said, noting all donations — cash and otherwise — are welcome.

Inclusive welcome signs return in Regina

The Regina Open Door Society (RODS) has also begun greeting new Afghan families, though it's still unknown at this time how many more are bound for the city.

In the meantime, the non-profit has brought back its inclusive welcome signs, which now include languages spoken in Afghanistan, such as Pashto and Dari.

"It's a visual way for people to see, 'My neighbour feels this way, my neighbour is welcoming, my neighbour believes in this message,'" said Victoria Flores, the manager of communications and marketing at RODS.

Jessie Anton/CBC News
Jessie Anton/CBC News

Flores said the non-profit is looking for Afghan interpreters to help families navigate through their daily lives after quarantine.

At the moment, she said RODS is only accepting cash donations.

Wider community pitches in

ShayAnne Surtees is one of many in Saskatchewan currently collecting donations for the Saskatoon Open Door Society to give out to Afghan families.

The initiative started with her parents' next-door neighbour in Saskatoon and has evolved to her receiving donations from strangers across the province.

Submitted by ShayAnne Surtees
Submitted by ShayAnne Surtees

Over the past week, Surtees said she's collected hundreds of donations — from winter clothing to books to mattresses — with many more expected in the weeks to come.

"It renews the love I have for Saskatchewan," she said. "That's the province that we are. We will help these people, and we will welcome them and we will accept them as our own."

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