Family reunited in Fredericton after struggling to leave a refugee camp

·3 min read
A family has reunited after seven years of paperwork, heartache and cancelled plane tickets. (Shane Fowler/CBC - image credit)
A family has reunited after seven years of paperwork, heartache and cancelled plane tickets. (Shane Fowler/CBC - image credit)

A furnished home has stood empty for almost a year as Abdulmanim Alhawari struggled to get his sister and her family out of a refugee camp in Jordan.

On Tuesday, Alhawari could finally show his family exactly how much care went into preparing a place for them in Fredericton.

"For four days, we had like hard time to clean the house, to prepare everything for them," he said.

"The house is done for everything, food, furniture. It's everything now ready for them. It will be easy for them."

Alhawari, his family, and his friends worked for five years to make this reunion possible. For the last year, permission to leave Jordan, not enter Canada, has been the barrier to reuniting Alhawari with his family.

On Tuesday they held Canadian and New Brunswick flags and red and white balloons as they watched the long-awaited flight land.

Alhawari then saw his sister and her family walk through the sliding glass doors of the Fredericton International Airport.

The last time he saw them was seven years ago, when they all had to flee the war in Syria. Alhawari made it to Fredericton while his sister and her family were still in Jordan. He made it his mission to show them what life is like in New Brunswick.

"I always tell my friend it's the greenie province here in New Brunswick," he said with a laugh. "It's everything green here. It's nice people."

Alhawari previously told CBC that he and private community sponsors were having trouble getting his family out of the Azraq refugee camp in Jordan.

Legal trouble in Jordan

The family fled Syria in 2013 after their home was bombed. Unable to obtain all the documents required to get a Jordanian work permit, Alhawari's brother-in-law worked illegally. When authorities discovered this, they deported him back to Syria.

He did not want to leave his wife and children alone, so he re-entered Jordan without permission, and the family ended up in the refugee camp for three and a half years.

In October of last year, authorities did not allow the family to leave to get their COVID-19 testing done, so they had to cancel their planned trip to Fredericton, Alhawari said.

Since then they rescheduled their trip two more times without success.

So when they tried a fourth time this month, Alhawari did not believe it would happen. It didn't sink in until his sister texted that they had landed in Cairo, Egypt for their first layover.

"I didn't think it was real," Alhawari said.

Family friend Willa Stevenson has been helping raise funds and work through the red tape. She said the separation and delays have been hard on the family, but she's glad all their work paid off.

"We're just gonna celebrate and start their new life here in Canada. They get to be with their family now," she said.

Shane Fowler/CBC
Shane Fowler/CBC

She said they've crowdsourced furniture, clothes, linens, utensils — everything the family needed and didn't have at the refugee camp.

"They've been in a refugee camp tin hut with thousands of other people side by side. And now they have an apartment with electricity. They'll have Wi-Fi, they have their brother and their sister and the children. They'll just start a whole new life. They'll be free."

Shane Fowler/CBC
Shane Fowler/CBC

Alhawari said he expects his sister and her family will have a less difficult time adjusting to life in Fredericton than he did.

"When I came to here there was no Arabic community in Fredericton, but now they have a lot of Arabic community," he said.

He said they don't have to go through the same growing pains he went through, because they have him.

"I have been here like, almost seven years … I'm gonna help them."