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Meet the Syrian refugee who owns the biggest international grocery store in Atlantic Canada

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Behind Rafat Harb’s warm demeanour and welcoming smile is a personal history of terrible hardships.

“It was not always easy,” said Rafat.

Rafat was only a teenager when he was forced to flee the Syrian civil war. He and his family spent three years in a refugee camp in Jordan before coming to Canada in 2016.

Within two weeks after arriving in Halifax, the Syrian refugee took on a graveyard shift shovelling snow. Rafat said he was determined to invest his earnings into starting his own business.

"When we came to Canada, we couldn't find the types of groceries that we would eat in the Middle East,” Rafat explained.

A few business ventures and a pandemic later, Syriana Market in Halifax is now the largest international grocery store in Atlantic Canada. The business has even expanded to include its own line of products.

“We have the restaurant, dine-in, as well as the grocery,” Rafat said. “It’s very multicultural,”

At just 24 years old, Rafat is the oldest of eight siblings, who all became Canadian citizens in 2019.

Mohammad Harb says he is proud of all of his children and their accomplishments.

“One of my daughters is in her fourth year of dentistry at Dalhousie University,” Mohammad said. “The other is studying International Law in her third year.”

Half of the Harb family lives with muscular dystrophy. In 2017, Marwa Harb, who was just 16 years old at the time, flew to Ottawa through the Children’s Wish Foundation to personally thank Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for saving her life.

“He helped everyone,” said Marwa in an interview on CTV News at 5 in 2017. “He helped me get treatment and my surgery. He helped me a lot. He brought my life back.”

Their story has come full circle. Rafat has made it his mission to employ newcomers at his market to help them learn English while connecting with other members of their communities.

“I have over 35 years’ experience as a butcher,” said Mohammad Alzoubi, who runs the meat counter at Syriana Market. “The work is the same, it's just the communication that has changed.”

“People can come here and meet others in their community while practising English,” said Rafat. 

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