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Nearly 300 Afghan refugees arrive to their new home in Edmonton

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Another 298 Afghan refugees arrived in Edmonton Saturday morning, marking the first group to directly land at the Edmonton International Airport.

The refugees and their families were either human rights defenders or supported Canadian operations in Afghanistan as interpreters, cooks, or drivers.

They had fled Afghanistan soon after the Taliban took control last August and finally arrived at their new home.

"This is the first charter plane of Afghan refugees actually landing in Edmonton," said Kathryn Friesen, Catholic Social Services director of immigration and settlement service.

"This is the first time where we've actually greeted and welcomed a charter flight, and it's the first place they've landed in Canada," she added.

Friesen says more than 600 refugees have arrived in Edmonton so far.

"It is quite impactful to watch the people coming down the stairs and knowing this is their very first experience, their first footsteps they’re taking on Canadian soil."

It was an emotional moment for Friesen and her team, especially as some of the volunteers greeting the newcomers were recent refugees themselves.

"One girl who had tears in her eyes said I’m just looking to see if I know anyone or I’m waiting for friends and family to come and I want to see if they’re on this plane, so it meant many things for different people," Friesen added.

Airport staff and customs agents with the Canadian Border Services Agency went out of their way to make their arrival special.

"For some of the staff at the airport, they just felt honoured to be able to say that first welcome," Friesen said.

"What can be a very intimidating experience as many of us have experienced going through borders and having to talk to border agents," she added.

"They made it a really wonderful experience handing out bags for all the children and making sure everyone had their Canada flag to wave it was beautiful." 

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