Damascus escape to Campbell River: a young Syrian man's journey to safety
Bomb blasts, missile fire and morning coffee on way to work 'a normal day'
Sarmad Al Mouallem fled war-ravaged Damascus, describing his safe arrival in Campbell River B.C. as akin to "winning the lotto," as he celebrates his first Canadian Thanksgiving.
The 28-year-old civil engineer worked until the day he left Damascus, while bombs dropped around him.
"It's a normal day. Took my coffee. (sic) Go to my car to reach my work and you can hear the gunshot you can hear the missiles and you just (sic) hoping [to survive]," said Al Mouallem, describing a day in August 2015.
"It's a normal day."
Al Mouallem is now seeking refugee status in Canada. He says everybody he knows in Syria has lost a loved one to the violence. His own close friend was shot in the head by a sniper in 2013.
Now or never
Al Mouallem had U.S. Visa, but it was close to expiry, so he realized his only opportunity to escape was when he did.
"I knew it was now or never. It's my last chance."
He bid goodbye to his parents, took a cab to Beirut, then flew to Dubai.
"They said go find a future," said Al Mouallem, showing a picture of his mother.
From there he went to Los Angeles, to connect with an uncle. Then in September he headed to Seattle and travelled by bus to Blaine, Washington.
It's unclear why, but once near Canada, he tried to sneak through somebody's back yard in order to get across the border.
He describes his efforts to cross into Canada as the scariest part of the journey.
I knew it was now or never. It's my last chance.- Sarmad Al Mouallem
"I took my first right turn and the cops, the officers behind me (sic) put your hands up in the air and get down," he said.
Al Mouallem spent three days in jail before he was given clearance to go his godfather's house in Campbell River where he's now spending the first Canadian Thanksgiving that he hopes is the first of many.
With Files from Dean Stoltz/CHEK TV