New Brunswick

3 years in limbo: Syrian refugee family reunites in Sackville

Nokar Hussein is in Sackville after living alone as a refugee in Lebanon. Years of work and worry finally paid off for Hussein's friends and family when he arrived in Canada last week.

'Hair raising' refugee case took years longer than expected, but Nokar Hussein's family is finally together

Nizar Hussein, left, is relieved to have his younger brother Nokar Hussein with him in Sackville. (Tori Weldon/CBC News)

After living alone as a refugee in Lebanon for more than three years, Nokar Hussein has been reunited with his family in Sackville.

It was a long, difficult wait, and getting here wasn't a sure thing until he was allowed to board a plane in Lebanon last Wednesday night.

Nokar's brother, Nizar Hussein settled in Canada with his wife, Sozie Ibrahim, and their son Fenner more than three years ago. They came as Syrian refugees and have made a life for themselves, adding a set of twin girls to the family.

As much as they love their new lives, Nizar and Sozie couldn't move on until Nokar was safe with them in Canada.

"It's not easy if your brother, he's not with you. He's in different country and he don't have a good life," said Nizar.

The photo that Nokar Hussein sent his brother to assure him he was leaving Lebanon. Jeff Murray said that when Nokar's friends and family saw the picture, they cried 'tears of joy.' (Nokar Hussein/Submitted)

As refugees, Nizar and his family were sponsored by the Sackville Refugee Response Coalition, with St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church.

"We were told immediately that there was one person who was left behind and that was Nokar," said Jeff Murray, who is the church's minister.

Paperwork was started on Nokar's application the day after the Husseins arrived. Murray said the application was accepted in February 2017. 

"I was told that from there on, it should be about nine to 18 months wait. As it turns out it ended up being 33 months."

Murray said he isn't sure why things took so long, but both his church and the coalition were diligent in staying on top of Nokar's case and contacting officials about delays.

Still, months passed, and then the "pre notice of arrival transmission" arrived, signalling that Nokar should be arriving in three to six weeks.

"I was shaking," Murray said as he quickly messaged Nokar, Nizar and Sarah Poirier the good news.

Poirier, chair of the coalition, helped submit Nokar's refugee case, but has since become a de facto member of the Hussein family.

"It's the best week of my life," she said. 

Sarah Poirier, chair of the Sackville Refugee Response Coalition, is holding Lilav Hussein, one of Nikar and Sozie's three children. She said the week leading up to Nokar's arrival was 'the best week of my life.' (Tori Weldon/CBC)

But the group wasn't in the clear yet. In the days leading up to Nokar's scheduled departure, Lebanese officials told him he would have to pay exit fees and a flat rate of $250 a year for each year he was in Lebanon. 

"We were starting to do the calculation, we realized we've got about $1,000 US to come up with quickly."

"That part was a little bit nerve-racking," said Murray.

A Facebook post asking for help raised nearly $3,000 within 24 hours. Murray said it was a true show of support for the work the groups are doing, but it isn't unusual.

In late 2015, when the Syrian refugee crisis was making headlines, the Sackville community raised $120,000 within three months. Poirier said 15 refugees have been sponsored by the groups since then.

'He might not be able to board the plane'

Even with more than enough money raised, Nokar wasn't in the clear.

While he was trying to get through security at the Beirut airport, his family and a group of supporters were gathering at Nizar and Sozie's home in Sackville. 

"There was some discussion about what needs to happen before he can leave the country, and we were here waiting for news that he was on the plane, and things were not happening," said Murray.

 "We were told that he might not be able to board the plane."

The brother's were staying in touch via a messaging app. All Nizar could do was pace around the apartment and go outside to smoke cigarettes to cope.

Poirier said the wait for news "was like time stopped​​​​."​​

But then Nizar received a picture from his brother, it was a moment Poirier said she'll never forget. 

"All he did was hold up his phone, he said he's ready, he's coming, he's free."

Nokar Hussein would video chat with his family every day from his apartment in Lebanon. Sozie Ibrahim, here with her daughter Simav, worried about her brother-in-law being alone until he was allowed to come to Canada as a refugee last week. (Tori Weldon/CBC)

Nokar had sent a selfie of himself on the airplane, proof he was on the flight departing Lebanon.

The room erupted with joy.

Late the next evening at Moncton airport, Nokar was reunited with his family and a group of friends he'd never met. 

Thanks to his support group, Nokar has an apartment and is adjusting to life in Canada. He already speaks some English but uses his brother as his interpreter to say that being here is like being released from prison.

"I'm so happy I'm coming here," said Nokar.

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