Refugee missing after boat flips on Lake Winnipeg ‘just loves to help people,’ friend says

By | June 14, 2020

A Kurdish refugee who worked to help others come to Canada is missing after the boat he was in capsized on Lake Winnipeg at Bélair, Man., on Saturday.

Search and rescue crews spent hours looking for Nour Ali. His father, who was also on the boat, is dead, friends and family at the scene confirmed.

On Saturday, STARS Air Ambulance spokesperson Fatima Khawaja said multiple people were on the boat when it flipped in the area off the east shore of the lake’s south basin. It is unclear how many people were on the boat in total.

Khawaja said the STARS crew landed and assessed the scene but did not transport any people from the area.

More than a dozen people arrived at the boat launch on Saturday evening, including Yachar Barakat, who said he and Ali came to Manitoba from Syria together.

“We’ve been like brothers, friends, me and him. We’ve always been together,” Barakat said.

Ali fled Syria in 2006, and after spending time in refugee camps in China and Macao, he ended up in Manitoba with his wife and two daughters just over seven years ago, .

Barakat said his friend spent years helping others make the same journey they did.

Ali’s friends and family stare out at Lake Winnipeg on Saturday evening. (Bartley Kives/CBC)

“He’s a person who just loves to help people,” he said. “Anything happened for anyone, doesn’t matter his colour, doesn’t matter his nation, nothing. He always wants to help.”

Barakat said it’s hard to estimate how many people Ali helped over the years.

“I could say more than hundreds. You could imagine how many Syrian people, refugees [are] here,” he said. “It could be more than, maybe, thousands.”

Barakat said Ali’s father had only been in Canada for about a year.

Jennifer Chen, a trustee in the Winnipeg School Division, said she had been planning an upcoming community event with Ali.

“I cannot imagine that next time when the community meets, he won’t be there. He’ll be deeply missed,” she said.

“It’s a devastating loss for the whole community. Nour gave everything he had to help others. When people asked, he was always there with his warm heart and helping hands. He was an advocate, a friend, and overcame so many challenges in his life.”

RCMP to release more information Sunday

In an email on Saturday, RCMP Cpl. Julie Courchaine said a witness on the shore saw an overturned boat and people in the water. Police responded to the call shortly after 4:30 p.m. CT on Saturday.

Courchaine said RCMP will have more information to release on Sunday.

Members of the Canadian military, Canadian Coast Guard, RCMP, fire and paramedics took part in the search and rescue operations.

A rescue boat on the water off the southeastern shores of Lake Winnipeg on Saturday. (Bartley Kives/CBC)

At about 7:45 p.m. Saturday, the capsized boat was towed to the boat launch, where several RCMP vehicles from Selkirk and Powerview were parked.

By dusk, most loved ones and searchers had left the boat ramp at the bottom of Yellow Brick Road, a gravel road that meets Lake Winnipeg, as the search wound down for the night.

The community of Bélair is located 91 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg, in the Rural Municipality of Alexander.

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