A B.C. man who went to Syria seeking adventure has been detained in the war-ravaged country, and Canada’s foreign ministry says there is little it can do to help him.
The mother of the man from Nanaimo, said he has not been in touch for more than a month and is pleading for help getting him home.
Andrea Leclair told The Canadian Press that her 44-year-old son Kristian Lee Baxter messaged her daily because she was worried after he arrived in Syria on Nov. 26, but he went silent after his last message on Dec. 1.
Asked about Baxter, Global Affairs Canada confirmed it is aware of a Canadian who has been detained in Syria. But the department offered no other details and would not confirm his identity, citing the Privacy Act.
The government has been warning Canadians to avoid travelling to Syria since 2011 after the outbreak of a civil war that has attracted foreign powers and spawned a multitude of militias, including a new Islamist terror group, while leaving an estimated 500,000 people dead.
Canada severed diplomatic relations with Syria in 2012, expelling its diplomats and shuttering its embassy.
“Consular services are being provided to the family and to the individual, to the limited extent possible. Given the security situation on the ground, the Government of Canada’s ability to provide consular assistance in any part of Syria is extremely limited,” said Global Affairs spokesman Stefano Maron.
The Global Affairs travel advisory warns all Canadians to avoid travelling to the country because of the ongoing war.
“Syria is not safe for personal travel,” says the department’s online advisory. “Attempting any form of travel in this very hazardous security environment would place you at grave risk. Criminals, terrorists and armed groups target foreigners for terrorist attacks, assassination and kidnapping for ransom or political gain.”
The advisory says the country is plagued by fighting that involves small arms, tanks, artillery, aircraft fire and chemical weapons.
Leclair described her son as a “world traveller and adventurer” and said he visited a village near the border of Lebanon at the invitation of his girlfriend’s brother-in-law, who now lives in Pennsylvania but regularly visits the village.
“I just want him home,” Leclair said.
One of Baxter’s flights was delayed on his way to Beirut so his luggage arrived after him, she said.
The brother-in-law arranged for a driver to pick him up from the airport in Beirut and drive him to the village, and Baxter said the driver assured him that he would collect his luggage for him, Leclair said.
“The driver said, ‘Don’t worry, I’m going to pick up your suitcase, don’t worry, you just stay and visit.’ So he did. And the driver never came back,” Leclair said.
Baxter went back to the border and was told the driver had been detained because a metal detector, which is a prohibited item, was in his suitcase, she said.
Baxter is a “history buff” and uses his metal detector as a hobby, but didn’t realize it was not permitted across the border, Leclair said.
“He loves to find things, he’ll find silly things like bottle tops but they might be old bottle tops, that kind of thing. He never finds anything of any value,” she said. “Kristian is a world traveller, he’s been all over the place, he’s an adventurer.”
Baxter told the border officials that the suitcase belonged to him, but they did not detain him or release the driver, she said. After four or five days, the driver’s family was getting worried, so Baxter returned once again on Dec. 2 to claim responsibility, she said, even though his girlfriend’s brother-in-law was urging him to leave the country at this point because the situation was worrying him.
He has not been heard from since, she said.
During their final video chat, Baxter said he introduced her to the cousin of the brother-in-law and several other people in the room.
“He introduced me to all these people, he says, ‘They’re such nice people, everywhere I go they’re feeding me and giving me tea and coffee.’ He was just having a really nice time,” she said.
Leclair said she has been frustrated by the lack of information she has been able to get about Baxter. Global Affairs Canada initially told her it could do nothing because there is no functioning Canadian embassy in Syria, then said it might be able to work through the Romanian embassy, she said.
Baxter was supposed to be home Dec. 13 and his travel visa to Syria expired on Dec. 12 or 13, she said.
“It’s so complicated because we just don’t know anything,” Leclair said.