Mahmoud Al-Bashawat never thought reuniting with his family would be more difficult than his journey over land and sea.

He feared for his family’s future after fleeing the war in Syria. Living in limbo in Jordan, with no job prospects or education opportunities for his children, Mahmoud had a difficult decision to make.

“I couldn’t see any future for them. Our future was shattered in the ruins of Syria. This is why I came to Europe, for their sake,” says Mahmoud.

In 2015, Mahmoud and his wife, Hayat Elwees, decided that he should leave first to try and secure a better life for their family. However, Mahmoud did not tell his wife and children that he would make the dangerous sea crossing from Turkey to Greece because he did not want them to worry.

It would be two-and-a-half years before Mahmoud saw his family again.

Fighting for his family’s future | Mahmoud's children

Three of the Al-Bashawat siblings, Fatima, Ali and Amal, were separated from their father for two-and-a-half years. @ UNHCR/Stefanie J. Steindl

Fighting for his family’s future | Mahmoud's son with his teddy bear

Ali was born in Jordan as a refugee, after his family fled conflict in Syria. He grew up without his father for almost three years before finally being reunited in Austria. @ UNHCR/Stefanie J. Steindl

Mahmoud eventually reached Austria and, five months later, he gained refugee status. The process of applying for family reunification could begin. But the family were to remain separated. The Austrian embassy required the Al-Bashawats to produce Syrian passports. The Syrian embassy charged US$400 dollars per passport – money Mahmoud didn’t have.

“I borrowed the money from friends… lots of very small loans,” says Mahmoud. “I had to pay money to the very government that was making us flee. I am still paying off the loans now.”

Worse still was the problem that Mahmoud’s eldest daughter Abeer had just turned 18. Until recently, children who turned 18 during the asylum application process did not have the right to family reunification.

Abeer received a rejection from the Austrian authorities, meaning she would be left stranded and alone in Jordan.

“I was afraid I would have to stay behind all by myself, with the rest of my family leaving,” says Abeer.

“I was going crazy,” says Mahmoud. “I couldn’t abandon Abeer; I would rather have returned to Jordan. We couldn’t live as a family ripped apart. Family is the most precious thing.”

UNHCR is campaigning to ease some of the practical obstacles that can make it difficult for refugees to obtain their legal entitlement to family reunification.

With legal assistance from UNHCR, Abeer was included in an alternative resettlement program and reunited with her family. Now all of them are learning German.

“Thank God we are together, with a fresh start,” says Mahmoud. “My children saw nothing but war and missed out on their education.”

Thanks to the support of donors, UNHCR helps families like Mahmoud’s reunite and begin their new life together.

“Family reunification keeps loved ones together, ensuring the right to family life,” says Daphne Kapetanaki, a UNHCR protection associate.

“The best way for people to start their new lives is not apart, but together, as a family.”

Fighting for his family’s future | Mahmoud and his wife

After a long struggle for family reunification, Mahmoud Al-Bashawat is finally together with his wife Hayat Elwees and children in Austria.
@ UNHCR/Stefanie J. Steindl

Everyone has the right to be with their family. You can help ensure refugee families are safely reunited.

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