A Syrian dissident on hunger strike to reunite with his daughter he has not seen in 10 years has drawn sympathy and perplexed looks from onlookers in Istanbul's Taksim Square. Ammar al-Sheikh Haidar handed out free flowers to passersby who mistook him for a beggar and tried to give him money. Carrying his daughter's photo, Haidar was frustrated with people seeing him as a flower seller or a beggar and broke into tears as he clutched a banner reading: "Ten is not only a number. A wound is bleeding. I want to see my daughter."
A fellow Syrian accompanying Haidar told reporters that he'd continue the hunger strike until he sees his daughter in Jordan again, while Haidar remained quiet. Haidar's story made headlines earlier this month. A former detainee and political dissident of the Bashar Assad regime, he was separated from his family years ago when he told them to go to Jordan, fearing for their safety after he joined the opposition. He traveled to Istanbul after surviving detention, death threats and kidnapping and wanted to travel to Canada with his family, who he has not seen in 10 years.
He started a hunger strike 10 days ago in front of the Canadian Consulate in Istanbul but decided to take his demonstration to more "visible" places as the consulate is located in a large business complex. He tried to stage a protest outside a visa center linked to the consulate, but security guards told him to leave.
The brother of Ali Haidar, who was Syria's former minister of state for national reconciliation affairs, Ammar hails from Hama and was a political dissident before the war erupted. He was arrested in 2010 by regime forces. He spent a year in prison and decided to send his wife and daughter to Jordan for their safety while he stayed behind. Unknown gunmen held him for one month, and he started receiving death threats before he decided to travel to Lebanon. He could not stay long there either, feeling the "pressure" on Syrian refugees and left for Turkey in 2015. Laws banning travel for refugees from Jordan to Turkey posed a hurdle for the reunion, and his family's attempt to enter Turkey illegally failed too.
He applied for asylum in Canada in 2017, received the first approval and the Canadian Embassy in Ankara approved a health check required for the application in August 2018.
Since then, there has been no word from Canadian authorities. His wife's application in Jordan to the Canadian Embassy also went unanswered.