Syrian refugee chocolate maker turned away at US border

24-Jan-2017 - France

A Syrian chocolate maker WHO brought his family business from his war-ravaged homeland to Canada said Monday he was denied entry into the United States, where he had planned to meet with the governor of Vermont and some recently arrived Syrian refugees.

Tareq Hadhad said he didn't have the correct documents to enter the United States, but he still hopes to bring to Vermont the positive stories of Syrian refugees as a way to counter what he called a "negative climate" for those refugees.

"Everybody now needs to hear from the newcomers how they are contributing to their new communities," Hadhad, 24, said during a telephone interview with The Associated Press as he headed back to Montreal from the U.S. border.

Hadhad and his family arrived in Canada in December 2015, three years after fleeing Syria, and soon launched their business, Peace by Chocolate, in their new home in Antigonish, Nova Scotia. The business' website says the family ran a successful chocolate factory in Syria that was destroyed by a missile. The family fled to Lebanon before being invited to Canada.

Hadhad said nine members of his extended family are now living in Canada.

In a speech last year to the United Nations, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke of the family's journey and their success in rebuilding their business so soon after arriving. Eight months after they arrived, the family donated its profits to the Canadian Red Cross to help victims of wildfires in Fort McMurray, Alberta.

"The Hadhads said they knew what it felt like to flee their country, to flee their homes and lose everything and they wanted to help by giving back what they could," Trudeau said during the September speech at the U.N.'s summit on refugees.

Hadhad was invited to Vermont by Ellen Adler, who splits her time between Sunderland and Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, where she met him. She said she wanted Hadhad to bring his message of hope to the state.

He had been scheduled to meet Monday with Republican Gov. Phil Scott and with two Syrian refugee families that arrived in Rutland last week.

But Hadhad lacked the proper documents to enter the United States. He was headed back to Montreal on Monday to collect them and said he would return as soon as he had them.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokeswoman Stephanie Malin said she couldn't discuss any specific cases, but a Canadian permanent resident card is not an approved travel document to enter the United States.

Hadhad said U.S. officials at the border were helpful and he will return as soon as he can.

"I was frustrated yesterday, but now I am stronger and I am more interested to get that message heard in the United States," he said. (dpa)

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