Syrian couple in Saskatchewan separated from children stuck overseas

The Al Hussein family moved to Regina just two weeks ago from a refugee camp in Lebanon after losing everything in the Syrian civil war.

'I started to cry,' son says boat ride from Lebanon to German destroyed him psychologically

Living in Canada is bittersweet for the Al Husseins. It was their son Saleh's dream to teach English in Canada, but he is stuck in Germany. (CBC )

The Al Hussein family moved to Regina just two weeks ago from a refugee camp in Lebanon after losing everything in the Syrian civil war.

Canada was meant to be a new beginning for the family but it has been difficult to think about starting over when half the family is stuck overseas.

The elderly couple is separated from seven of their children. Five of their daughters are living in a Lebanese refugee camp with their own children while the couple's two sons are in Germany.

"I never would have sent them to Germany, if I knew we were coming to Canada," said their mother, Mazhoudah Al Hussein, who spoke to CBC through a translator.

The couple is in Saskatchewan with their youngest daughter.

Saleh Al Hussein travelled from Lebanon to Germany by boat with his younger brother, Nasser. 0:47

Trying to find safety

The Al Hussein's applied for refugee status in Canada because of their oldest son, Saleh Al Hussein.

He's an English teacher and dreamed of moving to Canada before the war broke out in Syria.

But fearing for his safety in Lebanon, the family made an emergency decision to use all of their savings to send both sons to Germany.

Crossing the ocean

Saleh, who spoke to CBC from Germany via Skype, is there with his 15-year-old brother Nasser.

"I could never imagine myself like the others, who take a small plastic boat and use it to cross the ocean," said Saleh.

But that is exactly what he and Nasser brother did. During the trek across the ocean, Nasser's life jacket broke.

So Saleh decided to give his own life jacket to his brother, saying that if he was meant to survive he would.

"I was afraid about, maybe the boat at the middle of the two sides, that if something wrong happened I can survive, but there was a lot of children and I was responsible for my brother and my cousin also," said Saleh.

The boat made it to the shore, but Saleh said that the journey has caused him a lot of mental health issues.

"When my feet touched land again I started to cry, I was crying a lot," said Saleh.

It was the first time his younger brother had ever seen him cry.  

Mazhoudah Al Hussein said that when she thinks of her children crossing an ocean in a small boat, her heart sinks but she did what she had to do to keep them safe. (CBC)

Hopeful for a reunion

By a twist of fate just months later, the parents were notified that the family had been approved to move to Canada.

Without more savings to bring their boys back from Germany, they had to leave without them.

For the family, the separation has been terrible.

"I am an old man, I need my children to be here and help me," said the children's father, Saleh, who shares his eldest son's name.

Both the parents are unable to work, and depended on their oldest son to take care of them.

With Saleh being stuck in Germany, that is no longer possible.

Since the family's arrival in Canada, the Regina Open Door Society has told them that there may be a way to bring Nasser to Canada but it's unclear if the same possibility exists for Saleh.

Still, the the family says they are more than grateful to be here.

"When I arrived in Canada, they told me that I wasn't a refugee anymore. That I was a Canadian," Mazhoudah said.

Although it will take some time, they are hopeful and are looking forward to building a home.