Syrian family refused reunification as marriage considered polygamous

Refugee Muhanad Jazmati wants to bring his wife, twin sons and stepson to Ireland

A Syrian man who came to Ireland in 2015 has been refused family reunification with his wife and sons because his marriage is viewed as polygamous under Irish law.

Muhanad Jazmati has appealed the Government’s decision to reject his application to bring his family to Ireland, saying the only reason he came here was so his wife and sons could follow.

"I came here to give my family a better life. I did not come to just find a job and drink coffee. We cannot go back to Syria and I cannot stay in Turkey because I have Irish travel documents now. What other option do we have?"

Mr Jazmati and his wife Kinda were married in November 2013 after they met in the art cafe he ran in Damascus. It was Mr Jazmati's second marriage; his first ended in early 2012 when he and his first wife separated. He says they appeared before a local judge to formalise their separation and then applied for divorce.


However, he married Kinda before the divorce papers from his first marriage had been cleared.

“To finish the papers took a lot of time and during the war it was very difficult. My previous wife lives in another city which means she’d need to travel 10 hours and cross 25 checkpoints to get to Damascus for the papers. There was too much danger with the bombing and shells.”

The violence in Syria continued to intensify and in 2015 Mr Jazmati decided to leave. “What really pushed me to run was the worry for my family. If they stayed in Syria it would be a disaster. My wife said ‘you need to get out because it’s a chance to take us away from here’.”

Refugee status

He left his pregnant wife and travelled to Lebanon, Turkey and finally Ireland where he claimed asylum in September 2015. Back in Syria, his wife gave birth to twins boys they named Jade and Jude. As soon as his refugee status was granted in February 2016, Mr Jazmati applied for his wife, the twins and his stepson Nour (his wife Kinda's son from a previous marriage) to join him. Three months later he was informed by the Department of Justice that his marriage was not recognised under Irish law.

“They insisted it was a polygamist marriage in spite of the fact that I was divorced from my ex-wife in 2015. Me and my wife, we don’t follow polygamy, we are completely against it. Polygamy for us is to live with two or more wives, but for the Irish government polygamy means papers.”

Mr Jazmati appealed the decision and in August 2017 his twin boys were accepted but his wife and stepson were refused again.

But Mr Jazmati says his twin sons cannot come to Ireland without their mother. “How can you separate a mother from her sons? Does this mean according to Irish law I don’t have a wife now? Doesn’t my stepson have a father and brothers? Do I not have a family anymore?”

He has now brought the appeal to the High Court and has been awaiting a hearing date since November 2017.

Had Mr Jazmati sought asylum in the United Kingdom he may not have faced problems in reuniting with his family. While polygamy is illegal in the UK, as long as the marriage is recognised in the country where it took place and properly executed according to the laws of that country, the marriage is valid and the spouse is entitled to be reunited with one wife. The application is refused if the spouse applies for a second wife to enter the country. Similar rules also apply in Belgium, Finland, Germany, the Netherlands and Norway.

Mr Jazmati’s wife left Syria shortly after the twins were born and is now in Turkey with her three sons. “She speaks Arabic and English but she can’t speak Turkish. Some of Turkish society is not welcoming to Syrians and she has been threatened. There is one neighbour who bothers her all the time. When you are a woman living alone in that country they think it’s easy to get you, to force you to say Yes.”

A spokesman for the Department of Justice said the Minister was unable to comment on Mr Jazmati’s case as it is currently the subject of legal proceedings.

The spokesman added that the Supreme Court had set out its position on the matter through its judgement in the 2017 HAH v SAA case which found that only the first marriage of a Lebanese man with two wives was valid. This ruling "clearly established that recognition of an actually polygamous marriage 'would be contrary to a fundamental constitutional principle and therefore contrary to public policy'.

“Therefore it not possible for the State to recognise any second or subsequent marriages entered into while the marriage to a first spouse is in being, and considered valid under Irish law.”

Sorcha Pollak

Sorcha Pollak

Sorcha Pollak is an Irish Times reporter and cohost of the In the News podcast