Kasem Al Hallaq

It is with great sadness that the family of Kasem Al Hallaq announce his sudden passing on August 28th, 2022, at his home in Portage la Prairie at the age of 48.

He leaves to mourn his wife of 24 years, Iftikar Al Houlani, and his children Khaled, Kawthar, and Mohammad Al Hallaq, all of Portage la Prairie. Five brothers and one sister*, their spouses and families in Syria, Lebanon, and France; Iftikar’s brothers and sisters and their families in Syria, Lebanon, and Portage; and a large extended family.

Kasem was predeceased by three infant children, his parents Mohamed and Halima, his brother Zacharia at age 19 in a car accident, and his brother Khaled who was killed during the war in Syria when the mosque he was leaving after Friday prayers was bombed.

Kasem was born in Homs, Syria on July 17th, 1974, the 5th of 9 children. He was only in Grade 5 when his mom died. After Grade 6 he started working in a factory and then joined his brothers painting. At the age of 18 he completed his 2.5 years of compulsory military service.

Iftikar and Kasem were married in 1998. To support his growing family he owned his own business, renting a spot in a gas station serving coffee. Eventually, and with the help of family as is the custom in Syria, they were able to finish building their new house outside of Homs in 2011. They were only able to live in it for 8 months before the war got too close and he went to Lebanon to find a job and a place for them to live. Forty-five days later, Iftikar left with the children to join him for what they thought was a temporary situation, but they never saw their house again, instead they became refugees, eventually ending up in a refugee camp.

It was Kasem’s idea to apply with the United Nation’s High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) to see if they could go to a safer country where they might build a life again. On December 6th, 2015, they received an email that asked if they wanted to go to Canada. Yes! Finally, on December 8th, 2016 they arrived in Winnipeg in a TransCanada-closing blizzard. Welcome to Manitoba indeed! The next day members of the Portage & Area Refugee Coalition, which had formed to bring over two Syrian families, picked them up and brought them back to Portage. Amongst them was Auna-Marie Brown, who became the family’s grandmother, and worked tirelessly for Kasem and his family until her death at the end of 2020. He and his family made Portage their home and were very happy here, safe at last in a place where they could create the future they envisioned. We are so sad that his future was cut short.

In his short time here, Kasem was known as a thoughtful man and a good friend. He started learning English when he arrived in Portage and although he found it very difficult, he persevered, continuing to take EAL courses at the Portage Learning and Literacy Centre in the evenings. They bought their first car before anyone even had a drivers licence! He took so much pride in keeping that car clean and shiny, learning how to change the oil and tires on it with the seasons. Kasem liked things clean and organized. He loved his football (soccer) and was often in front of the TV cheering on his Real Madrid or Chelsea or yelling at the refs. He loved feeding the birds outside, which he did right up until the morning he died. In 2018 he started working at Best Cooking Pulses, now Avena Foods, in the Sanitation Department, where he was known as a kind, friendly man who sang as he worked and was always smiling. He enjoyed his work and loved his co-workers. In mid-2020 they bought a home they loved and felt comfortable in. Finally, they had a home of their own again.

First and foremost, Kasem loved his wife and children. He encouraged Iftikar to complete her Grade 12 and was looking forward to seeing her graduate. He tried very hard to provide his family with everything they needed and he was proud of his kids and their accomplishments.

Kasem will be missed by his many friends and family in Syria, displaced by the war in many countries including Lebanon, France, Sweden, Norway, Germany, and here in Portage la Prairie and Winnipeg, Manitoba. He was so happy his brother was finally able to move to a safer country only a few months ago and had a long-term goal of going to visit him someday in France.

Funeral and burial at Transcona Cemetery (5014 Dugald Road) have taken place.

The family would like to thank every person who went to the funeral, has visited, sent expressions of sympathy, or has kept them in their thoughts and prayers.

Kasem was keen to bring over as much family as possible as he never forgot how hard life was being a refugee. To that end, should you so desire, donations will be gratefully accepted to help fund the current applications for family who are displaced and living as refugees in Lebanon, now for over 10 years. Having more family in Portage is the best support for Kasem’s family.

*Sadly, we received word on September 10th that Kasem’s only sister, Salha, died suddenly at the age of 61.

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