Sunday Star-Times



Karam Shaar, 29, has finally started to build a new life with his wife Hanna Habibi, 31, in New Zealand.

But only after years of uncertaint­y and separation from his family after the Syrian civil war threw their lives into chaos.

He’d planned to visit his father in the US for the first time since the war broke out in 2012, but says the travel ban has prevented a reunion.

Born in Aleppo, Shaar says he planned to study abroad, then protest broke out against Bashar alAssad’s regime

He says it started out peacefully, then one of his friends was arrested and threatened.

He wanted to leave by choice, but was forced to by necessity, he adds from his living room in Wellington’s Karori. He fled to Malaysia with no plan. Studying towards a masters in economics, he lived with the uncertaint­y of not knowing where he could permanentl­y settle.

He then received full scholarshi­ps to study in either Italy or New Zealand – he picked New Zealand. It took him six months to secure a visa. Shaar met his wife Hanna, who is from Iran, at university in Malaysia.

Hanna, who is also enrolled in a PhD in economics, arrived in Wellington in April, 2016.

Shaar was granted asylum in New Zealand and the couple have just applied for permanent residence.

‘‘My experience has been very lovely, truth be told,’’ says Shaar. ‘‘People have been super supportive.’’ Despite facing financial pressures the couple wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

‘‘I would call it home,’’ he adds. He does miss the warmth and community in Syria and says, New Zealanders can be very individual­istic. His main sadness is his separation from his family. ‘‘I miss my dad - I would love to see him.’’ The last time he saw his mother and siblings was at his wedding in Turkey in 2015.

But his father wasn’t able to leave the US to come to their wedding.

He’d planned to see his father this year, but with the stroke of a pen, Trump has thrown their reunion up in the air. ‘‘It’s very ambiguous,’’ he says. Shaar doesn’t quite know if he’s impacted. ‘‘There is no solution but to wait.’’


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