When Somaia fled Syria with her family, she never expected to find herself alone with her young son in a foreign city. But at age 33, after never having lived on her own, she and six-year-old Aboudi found themselves marooned in Athens.

“All my family is in Norway or in Germany. I can’t stay here,” she thought. “In my culture, if you are a single mum with small children, you can’t stay alone.”

A Palestinian who grew up in Syria, Somaia fled the devastating civil war there with Aboudi and 12 other family members. It was a long and dangerous journey, first on foot out of Syria into Turkey and then on a boat across the sea to Greece.

"I feel I am free now. I feel I have a future."


“All my family is in Norway or in Germany. I can’t stay here,” she thought. “In my culture, if you are a single mum with small children, you can’t stay alone.”
A Palestinian who grew up in Syria, Somaia fled the devastating civil war there with Aboudi and 12 other family members. It was a long and dangerous journey, first on foot out of Syria into Turkey and then on a boat across the sea to Greece. ​​ Eventually, they planned to join relatives who had already found refuge in Norway and Germany. But by the time Somaia and Aboudi, then five, reached Greece, the borders had closed. The only way further into Europe was to apply for family reunification under the terms of the Dublin Regulation, an agreement that says refugees must apply for asylum in the first European country they enter, unless they have close relatives in another country.
Somaia’s relatives were all given permission to join other family members in Germany or Norway. But the young Palestinian woman - a divorced, single mother - was told she didn’t qualify.
“They told me your case is very weak. You are healthy. You are an adult. You can’t have reunification with your dad,” she recalled. Life in Athens was difficult for any refugee, but for a single, Arab mother it was terrifying. Somaia and Aboudi lived in a series of abandoned buildings that had been turned into refugee squats. People from many countries and many cultures lived together, and many were young men. Drugs and alcohol were common in the squats.
Aboudi, who turned seven in August, only briefly attended school. He went for three months, but cried every day, complaining that no one spoke to him. Eventually Somaia withdrew him, worried it would turn him against school forever.
Somaia was determined to find a way to rejoin her family. She volunteered as a translator at a community centre for refugees and migrants called Khora, where she met lawyers from Refugee Legal Support. Lawyers from RLS reviewed Somaia’s application to be reunited with her parents and brothers in Norway. They helped her argue that, as a divorcee and single mother who received no support from her husband, she was particularly vulnerable and that it was in the best interests of Aboudi to rejoin his grandparents. Norway eventually agreed.
“Her case depended on a provision of the Dublin Regulation that’s all about discretion,” said Juliane Heider, one of the RLS lawyers who worked on her case. “Alone, she wouldn’t have been able to articulate the issues in her case in the same way and I suspect that her case wouldn’t have been successful.”
Now Somaia is waiting for the final details of her transfer to be arranged. But already, the decision has eased her mind. She dreams of studying to become a social worker, so she can help women like herself. Aboudi plans to learn to swim, dance and sing. Finally too, he will be able to begin school in a new home, safe from falling bombs.
“I feel I am free now,” she said. “I feel I have a future.” ​​


Ali Abdul*, a 28-year-old senior policeman, fled Afghanistan with his pregnant wife and two young sons.


They travelled safely to Greece, but got stuck there. His wife and two sons were eventually able to travel to Germany, where his wife gave birth to a third son who was diagnosed with a number of serious medical conditions. There, his wife struggled to cope alone with a sick baby and two small children.


Ali applied several times for permission to join his family in Germany, but was unsuccessful until assisted by Refugee Legal Support, who filed an urgent application for family reunification, which was granted by German officials. He was able to join his family in October, just 3 months after RLS helped him file a claim.


For the first eight months of his son’s life, the only contact Ali Abdul* had with the critically ill newborn was through short video calls. The boy, Wazir, was born in a German hospital where he was diagnosed with a number of serious illnesses, including an inherited blood condition and problems with his eyes. But Ali, a 28-year-old policeman from Afghanistan, was stuck in Greece, unable to get permission to join his family.
As a policeman, Ali's job was to protect people against the Taliban. But he worried he wouldn’t be able to protect his own family. Still, he wanted to help build a brighter future for his country and dreamed of one day becoming president. He ran for, and was elected to, his regional parliament. But then there were threats against his life and rumors of a plot to kidnap his family. “I thought I can sacrifice myself for my country, but I was worried about my family,” he said. He decided it was too dangerous for them to stay.
Ali arranged for visas to Turkey and then paid for the family to be smuggled over the land border to Greece. It was a difficult journey, with two boys aged two and three, and a wife who was heavily pregnant. “One of my sons was very small. He was only 2 years. He didn’t want me to carry him because he was crying. His mother was also pregnant.“ Ali didn’t know, though, that getting to Greece would only be the first challenge: the borders to the rest of Europe had been closed to refugees. They arrived in Greece and found themselves trapped there.
Eventually, he was able to arrange for his wife and two sons to travel to Germany, but he remained stuck in Greece. In Germany, Ali's wife, Roshina, struggled to care for her sick newborn and two other young sons, while alone in a foreign country where she didn’t speak the language. She suffered from and was treated for anxiety.
Ali said he applied numerous times on his own for permission to join his family and help his wife, but these appeals were unsuccessful. He learned about the services of Refugee Legal Support at Khora Community Centre in Athens, where he originally came to take German lessons. RLS lawyers helped him file an urgent request for his asylum case to be transferred to Germany, so he could join his family, on the grounds of his son’s medical conditions and wife’s deteriorating mental and physical health. They helped document his son’s condition with letters from his doctors in Germany.
RLS also helped ensure Ali's claim was processed quickly, due to his wife’s urgent need of his support. They requested that the German government expedite his application, which was processed in just 14 days. Once his request to have his case transferred to Germany had been granted, RLS asked for his transfer to Germany to be expedited.
Many individuals who have been accepted for transfer to Germany have experienced delays of over a year for this to be carried out. This has been caused not only by administrative inefficiencies, but by the imposition by Germany in April 2017 of a cap on transfers under the Dublin III Regulation to 70 per month. Although the cap has since been declared unlawful by the German courts, there is still a backlog of individuals for whom Germany has accepted responsibility but who are awaiting transfer to be reunited with their families. However, thanks to RLS’s involvement in his case, Ali was able to join his family, and meet his new son, just 3 months after they helped him file his initial claim. In October, 2017, Ali was finally able to join his wife and three sons – and to hold his youngest, Wazir, for the first time. “It is my wish that I will keep him in my arms for one month,” says Ali.

*All names have been changed to protect identities.