After a heroic journey across the world to Winnipeg, a 17-year-old boy’s risky trip has been rewarded.
Fathi Ismail was reunited with his 10 siblings and his niece at the Winnipeg airport Thursday night.
The Ismail children, now aged 8 to 17, were born in Saudi Arabia to their Somali father, who was working for the consulate.
Their mother died of cancer in 2009. Then in 2014, they lost their dad.
Tom Denton of Hospitality House Refugee Ministry says, with their dad gone, they lost their rights to be in Saudi Arabia, even though they were born there.
“The Saudi authorities swept in and took their identity documents and said ‘you’re illegal’. They were subject to deportation to Somalia, where they don’t even speak the language and where there is civil anarchy and no safety for anyone,” he said.
That’s when 16-year-old Fathi took a risk. He made it to America, then up to the Canadian border. In October of 2014, he walked across the boundary at Emerson and continued his trek to Winnipeg.
He was taken in as a ward of Child and Family Services, but was worried about the siblings he had to leave behind. That’s when he met Denton.
“At that point his social worker brought him to me because it was really troubling for the boy that he had left behind all these siblings. It was a great worry for him. He had the family responsibility, he felt, since his Father had died, to look after the rest of them,” Denton said.
So Hospitality House agreed to sponsor the children and started working with immigration authorities to get them to Winnipeg.
Meanwhile, in Saudi Arabia, the other children went into hiding from the authorities.
“Twice there was a sweep through their neighbourhood to round up illegals and deport them. They were warned that the authorities would be back to take them and they had to hide… I am sure they were helped enormously by their father’s friends and neighbours to survive and to hide, because they are just kids for heaven’s sake.”
Denton says immigration officials worked quickly to bring them over. Yesterday, they arrived and were reunited with their brother.
He says their older brother was thrilled to see his family again.
I talked to him at the airport. His grin was as wide as his face. He said to me, ‘I can’t believe this has happened’.”
The Ministry has set up a gofundme page to raise money for the family.
Photo courtesy of Global News.