Nfld. & Labrador

New restaurant marks victory for former refugee

Ali Al Haijaa waited four years in a refugee camp in Jordan for a new country to take him in. He eventually ended up in Canada.
Ali Al Haijaa recently opened his own restaurant, Mohamed Ali's in St. John's, six years after arriving in Canada as a refugee. (CBC News)

Ali Al Haijaa waited four years in a refugee camp in Jordan, hoping a new country would take him in. He finally ended up in Canada.

Six years after landing, he has opened his own restaurant, Mohamed Ali's in downtown St. John's.

Al Haijaa's parents were refugees from Palestine who made Iraq their new home. The fall of Saddam Hussein ended their stay in that country.

Al Haijaa then landed in a refugee camp in Jordan, where he waited four years for a country to give him another chance.

"You had to stay in the tent, under the sun, and the cold at midnight," he said. 

Al Haijaa said there was absolutely nothing to do in the camp the entire time he was there, but he stayed motivated by a single thought.

"I can't give up."

Al Haijaa admits he brought that attitude with him to St. John's. It wasn't a city that he chose  but it's one that he's taken a liking to.

Ali Al Haijaa spent four years in this refugee camp in Jordan before coming to Canada. (CBC News)
​Al Haijaa was assigned to Newfoundland and Labrador upon his arrival in Canada.

His first enterprise in town was selling Middle-East street food out of a van in St. John's — but the business ran into trouble with city regulations unlike anything Al Haijaa was used to where he came from.

When that didn't work out, his next endeavour was selling after-hour falafels out of The Sprout, a downtown restaurant in St. John's.

However, his ambition remained to have his own place. 

This is I think, why I didn't give up in the refugee camp — this is life- Ali Al Haijaa

As Al Haijaa struggled towards this goal, he kept in mind his mantra from the refugee camp.

"This is I think, why I didn't give up in the refugee camp — this is life. I can have a better life, man. I'm not going to work for minimum wage and just pay the bills."

Al Haijaa realized one of his dreams when he opened Mohamed Ali's at the end of March.

On the first day, business was so good he ran out of food before closing time. The same thing happened on the second day.

"It was really super busy," he said.

For Al Haijaa, this represents a major step forward towards his even bigger goals, but he still has more he wants to see accomplished.

In particular, he wants his business to be part of more multi-ethnic growth in St. John's.

Al Haijaa said he's here to stay.