When Nabil Alghajar was held back in Lebanon by Canadian officials last February, he thought he’d be following his family two weeks later.
Nearly a year later, his mother Boshra Khleif is still awaiting his arrival in Halifax — and she’s quickly losing hope.
Last Feb. 19, Khleif, her husband and sons Muhannad and Qusai landed at Halifax Stanfield Airport with one less family member.
Khleif said they went through all the required medical exams and interviews together.
“And then they told us: The four of you go first and then (Nabil) will follow you.”
Eighteen-year-old Nabil has been staying with his uncle in Lebanon but, as of last week, those living arrangements ceased to work. His uncle couldn’t afford to house him any longer, so he’s couch surfing with friends or staying on the streets.
He told his mother that if he doesn’t hear word from the Canadian government by the end of January, he is going to move back to his native Syria.
“I don’t want him to go to Syria. Otherwise, what will happen to him in Syria?” Khleif asked, through an interpreter.
“We wanted to come here because we wanted all the family to come together. Now, I don’t know.”
Before this, the party of five were never separated.
They fled Idlib, Syria in 2011, after their house — and everything they owned — was destroyed by bombs.
They moved, temporarily, to Hama to live with Khleif’s parents, but quickly became uneasy when the Syrian army began to surround the area.
Their move coincided with the beginning of a nearly six-year-long civil war that according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has caused 4.8 million to flee to nearby countries.
They moved across the border to Tyre, Lebanon, and lived there for about four years until they received a call from the United Nations asking if they would like to move to Canada as federally sponsored refugees.
When Prime Minister Justin Trudeau held a town hall meeting at the Dartmouth Sportsplex on Jan. 16, she and her family attended in hopes of speaking with him. But he drew such a large crowd that she didn’t have the chance.
Her message is still clear in her mind.
“Bring me my son and I won’t leave. I will stay here forever. I don’t want to go back to any other country. I will stay here,” she said, wiping away tears.
At first, she said no one could tell her why she was separated from her son. She says she spoke with Halifax MP Andy Fillmore on several occasions and was told the government was working on bringing Nabil to Canada.
The Chronicle Herald reached out to Fillmore’s office for comment, but did not receive a response in time for print.
Fillmore took to Twitter on Saturday — along with Trudeau and other Canadian officals — after U.S. President Donald Trump signed a highly controversial executive order banning some refugees and immigrants from entering the country.
The Canadian officials clarified that Canada’s doors are open to all those fleeing persecution and war, regardless of their faith.
But just one day later, the prime minister was responding to what he called a “terrorist attack” on a Quebec City mosque that claimed the lives of six people and wounded 19 others.
Suddenly, the notion of safety for many Muslim newcomers was thrown a curve ball of uncertainity and confusion.
But Khelief says she has been treated with nothing but respect from Canadians.
“What we found here is very different. We couldn’t have the same treatment with the Arabic countries,” she said on Jan. 25 from her apartment on Bayers Road.
The 40-year-old says she and her family were afraid when they first decided to make the move. They didn’t know what to expect from a country with an entirely different culture.
“But when we moved here we found (Canadians) were accepting of all religions and all people.”
She says this wasn’t the case in Lebanon, where religious tensions were coming to a boiling point.
According to a 2016 census, the small country of Lebanon has an estimated population of roughly five million. As of June 2016, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reported that there are around one million registered refugees in the country, with numbers expected to rise.
Lebanon’s history has long been intertwined with Syria, as the two countries share a border which once served as an essential route for trade.
Close ties with Lebanon meant that, when war broke out in 2011, thousands of Syrians began to cross the border into northern cities such as Tripoli and Akkar. These cities are now faced with severe overcrowding, relgious clashes and poverty.
Since Khleif fled Syria, many members of her family have died, from both natural causes and in the ongoing civil war, and she hasn’t been able to be there for them.
The stress of this, on top of not knowing if her son is safe, has led her to develop diabetes in the last year, plus, her husband’s mental health is quickly deteriorating. She says he hasn’t been the same without Nabil.
Khleif says she misses Syria and Lebanon, but the future and safety of her children is everything.
Muhannad, 21, is learning level-one English at ISANS while Quasai, 12, is attending St. Agnes Junior High.
Both are enjoying what Halifax has to offer. In the summer, they picked up lake fishing, and now in the colder months they regularly frequent the Canada Games Centre and the Halifax Centeral Library.
But Muhannad says none of this is the same without his brother. “If he’s here, I would feel much better,” he said last Wednesday.
“I need my brother because I love him,” Qusai added. “He’s not happy, and I’m not happy.”
Khleif has applied to work on a farm in Annapolis Valley. If she gets the job, they would move there.
“This is our home. This our country now,” she said.
But for Khleif and her family, they’re staying true to the popular saying, home is where your heart is.
“I don’t want to lose my son. I want him to be with me.”
Original publish date: Jan. 31, 2017