Ghalia‘s long journey from war torn Syria to safety and peace in Austria

Ghalia and her family, originally from a town near Idlib, were living in the suburbs of Damascus when the civil war began. Mahmoud trained to be a teacher, later he worked in the telecommunication sector. Ghalia was a stay at home mum looking after their three children. Ghalia always loved arts and crafts, before having children she was studying this subject at college. Their children Heba (10), Haya (5), Ousai (3) are like any other children, they like to play, learn and have fun. Like for many others their whole life changed when fights started in Syria. What once was a normal and happy life got ripped apart in what appeared to be seconds.

They had to leave Syria after being concerned for their safety and wellbeing. Every place they knew was under heavy shelling. From one day to another the conflict had arrived at their doorstep and the area where they lived was suddenly unsafe for a family to live in, they had to act fast. First Mahmoud made sure Ghalia and the children were safe by sending them back to Idlib to gain time and organise what had to happen next. During the time they communicated by phone and agreed that Mahmoud would try to leave the country first as Damascus streets were very dangerous by then. Ghalia and the children would follow, but initially wait in Idlib until they found a safe way out of the country. Ghalia and the children left shortly after him together with friends. They all made their way through Turkey together but unfortunately became separated when they all reached the shores of Greece….suddenly she and her small kids were on their own. From Lesbos they continued their journey to the mainland and further towards Macedonia –

They were,  like so many others, too late. The Borders were closed,

After some time in the makeshift camp, Idomeni they were taken to one of the roughest military run camps in northern Greece, Softex. She had to fear for her own and her kids’ safety all the time. With the help of friends in Austria Mahmoud managed to rent an apartment in Thessaloniki for them, at least they were in a safe and warm place for the coming winter in 2016. Sadly, everything took much longer than expected and the rent couldn’t be paid any longer by the donors from Austria. They had to go back to the camp, Softex. This is when we heard of Ghalia and her kids and took them in to our “family sponsoring program”.

We rented a flat for  Ghalia and her children and helped with any needs. They applied for family reunion, it allows a spouse or partner and children of those granted refugee status in another country to reunite with them. Mahmoud, having already been granted refugee status in Austria, worked hard on all applications in Vienna and Ghalia in Greece. Again, things weren’t that straightforward, it took many visits to various offices and lawyers. The waiting time was sometimes unbearable for Ghalia, but with support from our team in Sindos she managed to get through all this.

During this application period we were very happy to give this family at least a bit of normality. Heba, the eldest daughter was able to go to a local Greek school and visited ballet classes. The rest of the family were free to participate in any activities in our community centre Tamam in Sindos. Ghalia was in fact at this time able to practise what she had studied, taking art classes which in some small way enhanced her morale.

Finally after more than a year with us, beginning of December 2017, Ghalia and the children received the news that the day for the flight to join Mahmoud in Austria had been granted.

The procedure of travelling is a very strict process. Having received an allocated time to fly, tickets must be purchased straight away, with one special travel agency, if you are late in purchasing then part process of application may need to start again, and further months of waiting can occur. After their long journey from Syria and all the hardships, they didn’t have any savings to pay for the tickets – like so many others. We couldn’t allow that their reunion would be postponed again, we could see how desperate Ghalia and the kids needed to be together with husband and father, we decided to pay for their tickets.

Three Peas could not wait for the day of Ghalia’s travelling, but even that wasn’t without unexpected surprises! The flight was booked for 17th December from Thessaloniki through Athens with an overnight stay in a hotel booked by us. After arriving in Athens Ghalia was informed by the airport police that she wasn’t allowed to leave the airport. After many phone calls by our Greek Pea Vassia with the police we all were informed that this is the normal procedure, they had to spend the night in police custody, at least we managed to explain everything to Ghalia with the help of Mahmoud and our translator Hasan.

Firstly, why does a family get an overnight flight when they are not allowed to leave the airport to sleep and secondly, why can’t a family be informed beforehand. This experience was terribly stressful for Ghalia and her kids – they thought they did something wrong as the Police took away their documents – imagine these precious pieces of paper. This is a terrible thing to do to someone who had to flee a country and puts an absolute unnecessary stress on someone who already is at his limits.

The following day police officers took them to their flight gate for their final destination, Vienna.

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Upon arrival in Vienna it again took a further 3 days through a refugee processing system with filling in forms, medical examination and other formalities before Ghalia and her children were finally able to see and join Mahmoud for good.

The 23rd of December was a happy day! After two and half years of being separated; through war, stress, fatigue and emotional torment, the family was finally re-united.

We wish them strength and courage and a welcoming heart to continue with their new life together in Austria!

Please consider supporting us by donating so we can keep on helping families like Ghalias’. No matter how big or small – every little helps!

Thank you on behalf of Ghalia & Mahmoud and their children

Minou and Blanka

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