Decade-Long Separation Ends: Burnaby Father Reunites with Children from Gaza

Mohammed Fayad, centre, is shown with his children, Qamar and Amir, at Vancouver International Airport on Thursday after they arrived from Gaza, via Cairo and Frankfurt, after 10 years apart. (Maisara Fayad)

Mohammed Fayad, a resident of Burnaby, B.C., experienced an emotional reunion with his children, Qamar, 14, and Amir, 12, at Vancouver International Airport on Thursday. The children had been living in war-torn Gaza, a world away from their father who had been anxiously awaiting their safe return amidst the recent Israel-Hamas conflict.

“For years, I was dreaming,” Fayad said, expressing the culmination of his longing. “And now this dream’s coming true.”

The children’s arrival was met with relief and joy, marking the end of a harrowing journey and a decade-long separation. “I’m so so happy, I have no words to describe how I’m feeling right now,” Fayad stated. “Finally, I meet my kids after 10 years.”

Israel formally declared war on Hamas on Sunday as the conflict’s death toll surged. (AFP)

The reunion was laden with the backdrop of a worrying conflict, which saw Hamas’ attack on southern Israel on October 7, leading to a series of events that heightened Fayad’s fears for his children’s safety. “I have endured extreme anxiety and fear,” he shared, reflecting on the distress he felt from his apartment in Burnaby.

Fayad’s journey began a decade ago when he fled Gaza, leaving behind his children due to circumstances. His ex-wife’s departure from Gaza a year ago left the children in their uncle’s care. Determined to reunite with his children, Fayad navigated a complex bureaucratic process, involving countless emails and phone calls to immigration officials and other authorities, to bring his children to Canada.

A Palestinian father in Vancouver lived through a month of agony with his children in Gaza when the war broke out. Now they are safe with him in Vancouver after making it through the Rafah border crossing last week.

The challenges were exacerbated by the outbreak of war. Fayad described the emotional toll of staying connected with his children through WhatsApp, relying on time stamps to confirm their safety. “They never smile like before,” he noted, revealing the war’s impact on his children.

In a pivotal moment, Fayad received news that his children were allowed to cross into Egypt, marking a significant step towards their journey to Canada. “Yes, I cried. But this cry is different because it’s mixed with happiness,” he recalled.

Amir, left, and Qamar as young children smile for the camera in this family photo. Their father, Fayad, fled Gaza a decade ago after working for the United Nations, and they’ve been living with their uncle and his family. (Submitted by Mohammed Fayad)

In Cairo, CBC News spoke with Qamar and Amir, who expressed both excitement and apprehension about their new life in Canada and their reunion with their father. Qamar aspires to become a doctor, while Amir, a soccer enthusiast, dreams of being like Lionel Messi.

Fayad, now eager to integrate his children into their new life in Canada, has planned several activities to familiarize them with Vancouver. “Tomorrow maybe I will try to take them around Stanley Park,” he said, outlining his plans to show them the city’s beauty.

The family’s first stop after leaving the airport was a simple yet meaningful one – a visit to McDonald’s, reflecting a return to normalcy and the beginning of a new chapter in their lives.