SOMAIA'S STORY

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."

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“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'S STORY

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.

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*All names have been changed to protect identities.