A loud burst of cheers, followed by “Welcome to Canada” messages in both English and Arabic, greeted a family of four Syrian refugees as they arrived at Regina International Airport on Wednesday evening.
In the middle of the commotion, Abdulnaser Alkhatib, 32, hugged his mother, Fatema Abosalooa, as they were reunited after four years.
“No words for that,” said Alkhatib’s older brother, Qussai, as he translated. “He’s very, very excited.”
Alkhatib, the youngest of seven children, fled to Jordan with his family during the Syrian civil war.
Alkhatib’s mother, two brothers and one sister, along with their spouses and children, were among the first 25,000 government-sponsored Syrian refugees welcomed to Canada in 2016. They all settled in Regina. But Alkhatib, his wife, Hiam, and their two kids were left behind in Jordan. Now, they’re together again.
“Our family is happy. (We’re) very excited this minute,” Qussai said.
The reunion was made possible by another family’s loss.
Jeremy Campbell, a 25-year-old Regina man, died while travelling in Japan in July 2018. He was visiting hot springs on a northern island when he slipped and fell.
Family and friends offered support to help cover funeral costs. Campbell’s family didn’t accept the money for themselves, but instead, decided to raise funds to help preserve his legacy.
With the help of a family friend, the Campbells decided to sponsor a Syrian refugee family — the Alkhatibs.
“(Jeremy) loved people; he was curious about the world, he travelled extensively,” said Campbell’s sister, Stephanie. “When he passed away, it seemed like a very fitting way to honour him.”
The Campbells’ GoFundMe campaign raised more than $23,000. Other funds were collected by the Regina Lutheran Refugee Committee (RLRC), a group made up of six different Lutheran churches in Regina. The money paid for the sponsorship through Canadian Lutheran World Relief.
“We’ve been working to sponsor refugees since 2015, so I hope that this won’t be the last time we’re at the airport welcoming a family,” said Meredith Cherland, RLRC project manager.
“We remember Jeremy tonight,” Cherland said. “We are grateful for this family in Regina, they are wonderful people, and we are hoping other Lutheran churches will want to sponsor refugees.”
The sponsorship did more than reunite the Alkhatibs; it connected two families from across the world.
“It seemed like it was meant to be,” Stephanie said.
The Campbells and Alkhatib’s extended family have spent the last two Thanksgivings together, getting to know one another during the sponsorship process.
Meeting Alkhatib at the airport was just as emotional for Stephanie, as it was for his family
“It’s kind of overwhelming, but it’s really beautiful,” Stephanie said. “Even though I can’t have my baby brother anymore, I’m so happy we can reunite them with theirs.”
“(Jeremy) would be so happy to know that this is what has come of something so tragic,” Stephanie said.
-With files from Elise Darwish