A smuggler, a tight deadline, and survival. Those are the words that define Nizar’s family reunification journey. Waiting in the fear of never seeing his loved ones again was what left the deepest impression.
In November 2015, Nizar requested asylum in Brussels after a perilous journey that started in Syria and took him through Turkey to Greece. His hometown of Deir ez-Zor had become a Da’esh stronghold lacking food and medicine, with no hope of prospects for the future. Nizar managed to escape but had to leave behind his mother, younger brothers, and sister. His father had already been killed.
They lived on the streets in Aleppo sleeping in a car. Then, they went to Damascus where they lived in a cheap hotel for a little while.
- Marie Vandendriessche, social worker at Caritas
Once in Belgium, Nizar hoped to make a new life in safety with his mother, his brothers and his sister. “I met Nizar on October 20, 2016, just two months before his 18th birthday”, says Marie Vandendriessche, a social worker at Caritas. In Belgium, unaccompanied minors can only submit a family reunification application before they reach 18 years old. “We were really in a hurry because there were only a few weeks left. Thankfully, we were able to set up a meeting for his family at the Belgian embassy in Lebanon on 23 December 2016.”
Nizar’s family was still in Deir ez-Zor and Da’esh forbade them from leaving. The family had to pay a smuggler 6,000 euros in order to leave the city. Sayid, Nizar’s 16-year-old brother had even tried to leave alone, but he was caught and imprisoned. “We were very worried. We thought he’d miss the meeting at the Belgian embassy,” remembers Marie. “Thankfully, on December 13 we got good news: Sayid had rejoined his family, and they had made it out of the city. It was a very dangerous operation, but ended up being a success.”
To Damascus for a stamp
After detours in Aleppo and Damascus, where Nizar’s mother had to pick up documents required for the family reunification application, the whole family was received at the Belgian embassy in Beirut on December 23. Their visa was denied because some of the family members didn’t have the necessary documents. “I got ahold of the officer. Miraculously, he authorized a second meeting on December 30. It was their last chance…”, adds Marie.
When the family tried to cross back over from Syria to Lebanon on December 28, Nizar’s mother was told she needed a document showing her husband was deceased. She had to go back to Damascus, this time to get a stamp. On 29 December 2016, the family finally arrived in Beirut, but they were too late to have all their documents legalized.
A sigh of relief
“The officer accepted the file without all the Syrian documents. He was able to legalize them later,” describes Marie. “I had never been so relieved.”
The family returned afterwards to Syria to wait for the decision from the Belgian authorities. Unable to return home, “they lived on the streets in Aleppo, sleeping in a car. Then, they went to Damascus where they stayed in a cheap hotel for a while.”
The scientist and the businessman
On 20 November 2017, the decision finally came through: the family reunification request had been approved. After more than two years of separation, Nizar and his family were united in January 2018. His brothers and sister had missed five years of school and were excited to start their new life in Belgium.
Marie tells us their hopes. “Aimar just started back at school and wants to be a teacher or scientist. Fathi wants to be a businessman. Little Yaman is just 5 years old. He hasn’t started school yet and is impatient to play with the other kids.” Maya, the mother, is very happy to have been united with her son in Belgium. She still has other children, now adults, in Deir ez-Zor. For the moment, she has been unable to contact them.
Maya and her children have applied for asylum and currently live in a reception center close to Nizar. He sees them every day.