Tears of joy as Syrian parents reunited with daughter in Dublin

Support group concerned by changes to Act that allowed woman to join family in State

Wafaa and Samir Youzbashi Aljafari could not sleep for two days in the run-up to their daughter's arrival in Ireland.

Standing in Dublin Airport on Monday afternoon, the couple could barely speak with the anticipation of seeing their daughter for the first time in more than a year. They were also finally about to meet their one-year-old grandson Yousef.

Wafaa dabbed a tissue at her eyes while pacing around the arrivals hall, while Samir stood completely still, his eyes fixated on the revolving doors as he counted the seconds until their daughter re-appeared in their lives.

Wafaa and Samir arrived in Ireland with their youngest daughter and two sons in December 2015 as programme refugees. Before their resettlement to Europe, the family had fled their home in Damascus and travelled to Lebanon.

However, their 21-year-old daughter Nadine decided to return to Syria to be with her husband. Shortly after she arrived back in Damascus, Nadine gave birth to a baby boy. Soon after, her husband was killed when a bomb went off in a local grocery store.

Wafaa struggled with the separation, not only from Nadine, but from her two other daughters – Nermine who was also in Damascus with her husband and child, and Nivine who lives in Libya with her family.

“I’ve always been very close to my daughters, I raised them as if they were flowers. But the war took them away from me and separated us. I never imagined we would be that far apart for so long.”

Granted permission

In August 2016, Wafaa applied to the Government for permission for her daughters to join her in Ireland and in October she submitted the application. She also met with her local TD Michael Healy-Rae, asking for his support in bringing her daughters to Ireland.

Within weeks, Wafaa was informed that Nadine and her son had been granted permission to join the family. According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), this process of reunification usually takes 12 months.

Under the 1996 Refugee Act, Nadine and her baby were entitled to join her parents but the application for Nermine was rejected because she was unable to bring her husband to Ireland.

On Monday, Wafaa used Facetime to call Nermine from Dublin Airport so that she too could witness the arrival of her younger sister in Ireland.

“I’m getting chills and numbness just thinking about it,” said Wafaa as she looked anxiously towards the television screen displaying flight information. “I’ve only seen Yousef in photos. This all still feels like a dream.”

All of a sudden, Samir let out a cry as he rushed towards a young woman pushing a trolley into arrivals. He threw his arms around his daughter as Wafaa lifted up her grandson for the first time with tears running down her face.

Changes to the 2015 International Protection Act which replaces the Refugee Act that allowed Samir and Wafaa to bring their daughter here means that people in the same situation will be unable to bring family to Ireland from January 2017.

New law

Under the new law, refugees will only be able to apply for their spouse, children – if those children are under 18 – and their parents, if the refugee making the application is under 18. Grandparents, siblings, children over 18 or grandchildren will no longer be eligible.

Cork's immigrant support group Nasc says they are "deeply concerned" about the impact of the new Act on family reunifications.

“It is most worrying that at the time of greatest humanitarian crisis since the second World War, the State has removed the rights of refugees to apply for family reunification for their extended family members,” said Nasc chief executive Fiona Finn. “This demonstrates a profound lack of compassion and humanity on the part of the Irish State.”

Nasc is now calling on the Government to introduce a humanitarian visa scheme so that families like Wafaa and Samir’s can have safe passage to bring all their children, their spouses and grandchildren to join them in Ireland.

Sorcha Pollak

Sorcha Pollak

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