Adnan Kharsa, 11, was separated from his parents during the Syrian civil war in 2017. While he arrived in Canada in 2021, his parents and little sister were stuck in Turkey. After more than six years apart, the boy finally reunited with his family in Saskatoon this week.
Adnan Kharsa hugged his little sister for the first time at Saskatoon airport on Wednesday
Bonnie Allen · CBC News
Eleven-year-old Adnan Kharsa wore a blue suit with a bow tie to the Saskatoon airport to see his parents for the first time in six years.
The Syrian boy stood nervously at the arrivals gate Wednesday afternoon, clutching a teddy bear and a bouquet of flowers for his five-year-old sister, whom he’d never met in person.
Adnan, who was separated from his parents by the Syrian civil war in 2017, has been living with his grandmother in Saskatoon since 2021, while the rest of his family was stuck in Turkey.
When Adnan’s father, Manhal Kharsa, spotted his son in the airport, he began to run and sob openly. He held Adnan as if he’d never let him go again.
“It was exciting. It was hard to not cry, but I couldn’t hold it,” Adnan said.
WATCH| This Syrian refugee is reuniting with family after being apart for years:
This Syrian refugee is reuniting with family after being apart for years
Adnan Kharsa is finally reunited with his parents and a sister he has never met at a Saskatoon airport. Kharsa, a Syrian refugee, has been living with his grandmother and uncle in Canada, while his parents are stuck in Turkey with his sister, who he’s only seen on video chat.
His father was unabashedly overcome.
“I feel like I am born at this moment,” Manhal said in Arabic, with English translations from his brother. “It was a dream, and unbelievable, to meet my son again.”
In July 2017, as the Syrian war raged on, Adnan’s parents sent him to Malaysia with his grandmother to escape the violence for a few months.
But then, his parents and grandfather were forced to flee Syria to Turkey with no passports and little money. They had no way to reunite with Adnan and his grandmother.
The couple gave birth to a little girl in Turkey, but Manhal said he cried for his son every night.
In 2021, Adnan’s extended family in Saskatoon — led by his aunt, Doha Kharsa, and a volunteer group called Moms for Refugees — managed to privately sponsor the boy, his grandmother and his uncle.
Moms for Refugees organizer Kyla Avis said the group knew it had to raise more money — another $35,000 — to reunite Adnan with his parents and sister. The Mennonite Central Committee, which has a contract with Ottawa to sponsor and settle refugees, helped submit the application.
The family was warned they could wait two to three years due to a huge backlog of immigration and refugee cases, partly due to the pandemic, as well as logistical delays on the ground in Turkey and high demand from other countries, such as Ukraine.
In early September, Avis learned the family would be arriving in two weeks. Volunteers scrambled to find a rental property, furniture, clothing and other essentials. The private sponsors cover the family’s expenses.
The tight rental market proved challenging. Avis couldn’t find a house within their budget and in Adnan’s current neighborhood, so he’ll have to change schools.
“That was the biggest piece of the puzzle,” Avis said.
“This was the worst rental experience I’ve had, just in terms of the limited availability, the demand, the concerns over having a sponsorship group or an immigrant/refugee family, and helping landlords understand what that meant.
“It was a really big challenge.”
But all worth it, she said, to see the family reunited.
“Fundraising is always hard and it’s a lot of work, and the paperwork is a long process, but … this is the day you always wait for and hope for. And it’s just so exciting and it’s so gratifying,” she said.
Along with Adnan’s parents and sister, his grandfather also arrived in Saskatoon on Wednesday and was reunited with his wife.
“At their age, it was very hard to be separated,” said Doha Kharsa, their daughter.
She’s excited to have her family safe and all together, but is also realistic about the challenges ahead.
She arrived in Saskatoon as a government-sponsored refugee in 2014 after being separated from her husband and son. She knows first-hand the difficulties of reconnecting with loved ones after long periods apart, while dealing with culture shock in a new country.
“We’re nervous about that. It’s been many years. We have to get to know each other once again,” she said.
Adnan’s parents were excited to tour their new home, but unwilling to stray too far from their son.
When it came time to put their shoes on to go for a family meal, Adnan’s mother bent down to tie her son’s shoes, as she would have done for him when she last saw him six years ago. Now 11, Adnan indulged her.
The boy told CBC News that a weight has been lifted from his shoulders.
“I don’t have to worry about anything anymore,” he said.
His sister is expected to start kindergarten soon, and his parents will begin language classes.
When asked what’s next, his father said:
“I don’t want anything more. Not one single thing.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Bonnie Allen is a senior news reporter for CBC News based in Saskatchewan. She has covered stories from across Canada and around the world, reporting from various African countries for five years. She holds a master’s degree in international human rights law from the University of Oxford. You can reach her at email@example.com