Newfoundland Becomes New Haven for Jews, Others Fleeing Moldova

The town of Gander, Newfoundland, has become an unlikely destination for Jews, Ukrainians, Russians and other ethnic minorities fleeing the conflict-ridden former Soviet republic of Moldova.

Those hoping to win asylum in Canada fly from the Moldovan capital of Kishinev to Moscow. There they catch a four-times-a-week Aeroflot flight to Havana, Cuba — once a popular fun-in-the-sun vacation spot for Russians and other nationals of the erstwhile Soviet bloc.

Arriving almost penniless, the refugees are deported by Cuban authorities on the next Aeroflot flight back to Russia. The plane stops for refueling in Gander, a remote airport carved out of Newfoundland’s rugged wilderness to serve as a World War II aerodrome. There the Moldovans file for refugee status.

So far this year, 2,394 refugee claimants have arrived in Gander. It is not clear how many of them are Jewish, since Canada’s Immigration Department does not provide statistics based on religion or ethnicity.

Among them is Boris Vaisman, 37, who arrived in Gander recently with his wife and two children. Vaisman, a mining engineer, claimed he faced discrimination in Moldova as a Jew. “A war is going on,” he said in an interview with the Toronto Globe and Mail. “Yes, being Jewish was a problem all the time. Among other things, it was very hard for me to find a job.”

Vaisman said he considered going to Israel, “but the procedure is very slow, and in Israel I have no friends or relatives.”

He wants to settle in Toronto, where 20,000 Jews from the former Soviet Union live, including his aunt and cousin.

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