Newcomers continue to be welcomed, although arrivals at the airport look different during the COVID-19 pandemic

A sponsored refugee in 2022 arrives with less fanfare because of COVID-19 restrictions. (Submitted photo)

By Jan Bigland-Pritchard, Office of Migration

Back in the “before-time” – pre-Covid – arrival days were party days.  When long-awaited refugee newcomers arrived at the airport in Saskatoon, they would be met with flowers, banners, balloons, and a crowd of family and friends plus parish sponsors.

Arrival day at the Saskatoon airport in September 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic: large groups would often be on hand to greet newcomers and to celebrate arrivals. (Submitted photo)

The arrivals area in the airport would sometimes get congested with little groups of people, all welcoming ‘their’ refugees with hugs, greetings, and shouts of welcome. Once the baggage had been picked up, the party moved to the newcomers’ new home, where a mix of traditional and Canadian foods awaited, plus a ‘Welcome to Canada’ cake.

Things have changed, at least for now, but we are still welcoming arrivals sponsored through our diocese.

From March 2020 to September 2021, we had no arrivals to celebrate, but since September we have welcomed 17 former refugees, now new Canadian permanent residents.  However, the arrival at the airport looks different now, and the newcomers’ first few weeks in Canada are different too.

The celebration has to wait, because the newcomers are whisked away straight from the airport to the place where they will quarantine for 14 days.

Instead of crowds, one or two close family members meet them at the airport. Instead of lingering hugs, the newcomers get socially-distanced verbal welcomes, masks and hand sanitizers, and maybe the new Canadian greeting – the elbow bump.

Newcomers are given a working phone right away so that they can keep in touch with their relatives and sponsors by phone and text, especially if their quarantine accommodation is in a different building from where their sponsors are living. If they are sharing a home with sponsors, it may be a question of shouting greetings down the stairs to their suite or through a door.

Sponsors make sure that the newcomers have a TV, books, toys and games to help keep them amused for the two weeks of solitude. Relatives and sponsors stay in touch with frequent phone calls, and contact the diocesan Migration Office if something arises and they need extra advice. Newcomers catch up on sleep, recover from the stress of travel, and start to make their new accommodation into a comfortable space for their needs.

They then wrestle with the Day 8 Covid PCR test, which has to be done by video-link to an approved nurse, followed by waiting for the results. At last Day 14 arrives, and the newcomers can begin to explore their new community.

They receive masks and instructions on social distancing, and then begin the exciting and bewildering transition from “I’m new here” to “Now I feel at home!”

Welcoming newcomers at the airport looks different than it did before COVID with parish and family gathering to celebrate — but the joy of arrivals remains the same for those involved in refugee sponsorships. (Submitted photo)


For more information about refugee sponsorship in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon, visit the website: LINK or e-mail the diocesan Office of Migration: