NEWS

Syrian Refugee From Canada Turned Away At U.S. Border After Visa Mix-Up

01/23/2017 03:13 EST | Updated 01/23/2017 04:21 EST

MONTPELIER, Vt. — A Syrian refugee whose family has established a thriving chocolate-making business in northern Nova Scotia says U.S. border officials prevented him from entering the United States on the weekend because he didn't have a visa, as required by law.

Tareq Hadhad was on his way to Vermont on Sunday, when he was stopped at the Quebec-Vermont border.

He said he had been invited to speak with the governor of Vermont, and was also planning to speak at a local school and a radio station about his family's successful business, Peace by Chocolate, in Antigonish, N.S.

He thought the governor's invitation would be all he needed to cross the border, but he soon learned that most permanent residents of Canada require a visa and a passport to enter the United States.

tareq hadhad

Tariq Hadhad in a Facebook photo. (Photo: Peace by Chocolate/Facebook)

American border officials worked diligently for two hours to get him into Vermont, and even called the governor — but they couldn't find a way around the rules, he said.

"They offered every help they could to get me into the United States," he said Monday in an interview from Antigonish.

"They said, 'You have a great story to tell, and you're meeting with the governor is so important ... They worked really hard, and they said, 'You are welcome to come to the United States any time.'"

Refusal was 'disappointing'

Hadhad said he plans to resume the trip once his papers are in order.

"It was disappointing in the beginning. Now, I realize, there is always a positive side."

Hadhad, a biology student at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, said he has friends in Vermont who encouraged him to visit, and he confirmed that Vermont Gov. Phil Scott heard about his family's story and extended an invitation for a discussion about how newcomers can contribute to their community.

"He had been following our story,'' he said.

PM spoke about success story

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told the family's story at the United Nations in September.

The family had long operated a chocolate factory in Damascus when it was destroyed by a missile in 2012 during the country's ongoing civil war. The Hadhads fled to Lebanon, where they stayed until leaving for Canada in December 2015.

"We didn't face any serious challenges in Antigonish because of the way the community embraced us,'' he said, adding that the chocolate business run by his father is ready to expand.

"It's going really excellent. In one year, we achieved so many huge things ... It was not an easy mission but we succeeded."

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