New Brunswick

Stroke of luck leads to Syrian siblings' reunion after six years apart

Said Al Rajeh hadn't seen his sister since 2013 — then she and her family were chosen by chance to come to Canada as government-assisted refugees.

Said Al Rajeh hadn't seen his sister in six years before a big and happy reunion in Saint John Thursday

Said and Fatima embrace as their families are reunited. (Colin McPhail/CBC)

They said goodbye in 2013, and hadn't seen each other since — until a stroke of luck led to an ecstatic reunion at the Saint John airport.

Said Al Rajeh last saw his sister Fatima six years ago after he fled Syria, seeking refugee status in Canada in hopes of obtaining medical care for his wife. 

Al Rajeh and his family were settled in Saint John in 2016 and made a home in the port city. His wife opened a cafe with another newcomer, and the children are soaking up the language of their new home country.

But he always missed and worried about his sister in the Middle East.

However, the years of worrying came to an end this week as Fatima, her husband and four children, arrived in Saint John. 

More than a dozen people collapsed into each other at the airport's arrivals gate, kissing, hugging, and shaking hands —some for the first time.

Al Rajeh, who largely spoke through his daughter Alaa, said he was excited to have his sister in Canada.

"He really missed her and he's going to be very happy that she's going to be living here with us," said Alaa.

Fatima and her family were not sponsored privately, but selected by chance to come to Canada this year as government-assisted refugees.

Fatima, speaking through Al Rajeh's wife Mona, said someone told her she should go to Toronto to settle down, but Fatima wanted to go to Saint John.

An emotional reunion this week between brother and sister was one of many that happen at the Saint John airport. 10:08

Al Rajeh still has five members of his family in Lebanon, Jordan and Syria.

He said they're ok, but he worries about them and would like them to come to Canada as well.

Melanie Burns, the arrival services team lead at YMCA Newcomer Connections, said a lot of work goes into making these family reunions a reality. Whenever they happen, she said there's always a buzz in the air.

"They're really special because these are families that have been apart for a really long time," said Burns.

"The airport just has this extra kind of electricity of excitement when somebody else is coming and they know that we're kind of going to see a family come back together."

With files from Colin McPhail

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