- BC Games
Fiancé escapes from a war-torn country
After five years apart, Wissam's and Marwa's wait is over.
On Tuesday, Marwa O'da arrived at Vancouver International Airport into the waiting arms of her Burnaby fiancé Wissam Nassar.
"When I saw her … she was running and I hugged her," said Wissam. "I was shaking, my heart was beating too fast … I was in another world."
With Wissam translating her Arabic, Marwa said, "I thought now I'm in a dream."
As reported in the NewsLeader, the couple have been waiting seven years to start new lives together.
Now 26, Wissam and Marwa were both 19 when they met in Syria. Both are third-generation stateless Palestinians whose grandparents were forced out of Palestine in 1947, when the territory became Israel, and settled in Iraq where their parents and they themselves were born.
Wissam and his family left Iraq for Syria after he and his brother were each threatened and ordered to leave the country due to their Sunni Muslim religion when sectarian conflict divided Sunni and Shia.
But only two years after meeting Marwa, Wissam and his family were forced by the Syrian government, along with other stateless Palestinians, out of the country to a United Nations refugee camp. Marwa's family was allowed to stay behind due to her sister's kidney disease which required regular hospital treatment but were trapped amid Syria's civil conflict. As stateless Iraqi Palestinians they are not allowed to enter the neighbouring Lebanon, Jordan or Turkey.
Eventually, Wissam's family was sponsored by Ian and Heather Macdonald, Westminster Presbytery of the United Church and the Burnaby-based B.C. Muslim Association to come to Canada in 2011.
Ian Macdonald is the former minister at South Burnaby United Church while his wife Heather has long been involved in raising awareness about the plight of refugees. When Wissam told her about Marwa, she was soon on the case and eventually arranged for her to be sponsored by the Macdonalds and Mount Seymour United Church.
Tuesday was the end of a three-day journey for Marwa, who spent a full day on a United Nations bus filled with refugees headed to Canada and Finland.
With a Canadian visa in hand, she spent three hours at the checkpoint on the Syrian side of the border where she watched as one woman from her bus was sent back as she didn't have permission from the Syrian government to leave.
Then on the Lebanon side of the border, she waited another three hours. Each time her luggage was searched thoroughly, as was that of everyone on her bus.
"She was scared because maybe the papers, documents are not complete and maybe they will tell her to go back to Syria," Wissam said in translation.
Then she had the nervousness of her first-ever plane ride, from Lebanon to Istanbul, Turkey and from there to Toronto, then Vancouver before arriving at her new home in South Burnaby.
And her first impressions?
"It's quiet here, quiet and safety, there is no bombs or explosions," Marwa said through Wissam. "It's clean, all the streets are white." The streets are much wider than she's used to. "Here it's easy to walk, it's fantastic."
Marwa's parents remain in Syria awaiting a decision on their application to emigrate to Australia, where Marwa's uncle lives.
"They were happy and sad at the same time," he relayed of her parents' reaction to her leaving. "Happy because she will leave the country and will build a new life and new future, sad because they will miss her."
Her new life begins now in Burnaby, where on Wednesday they were searching for an apartment together.
Marwa said she wants to study English and do what she needs to have her Iraqi nursing certificate recognized here and resume work as a nurse, her occupation during her stay in Syria.
As for what she thinks of the international community's current debates over whether or not to take military action against Syria for its use of chemical weapons on its own people, Marwa is on the fence.
"I don't like politics," she said.
Meanwhile, the couple isn't wasting time and hope to finally get married next month.
"I had been waiting this moment for seven years, I want to do it as quickly as I can," Wissam said.