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In Germany, A Syrian Refugee Is Reunited With His Family

Mar 31, 2017
Originally published on March 31, 2017 7:09 pm

Here's an update on a story that NPR started following almost two years ago in Izmir, Turkey, a city on the edge of the Mediterranean Sea. That's where NPR's Ari Shapiro first met a teacher from Syria — a father in his early 30s named Monzer al-Omar.

Omar had been in Izmir for a week, waiting for a phone call from a human smuggler who would put him onto a crowded raft heading for Greece. Once the call came, Omar said, he would have just five minutes to gather his belongings, run to the beach, get on a raft and go.

Over the months that followed, NPR reporters followed Omar on his journey — joining him by foot, bus and train across Greece, Macedonia, Serbia, Hungary, Austria, and finally to Germany, where he settled in the city of Dortmund.

Omar, originally from a village near the city of Hama, had left his pregnant wife, Walaa Ahmed, and two young daughters in Syria with his parents. He didn't want them to risk their lives making the dangerous journey with him to Europe. But every day, he would send a voice message home to his wife, children and parents, whom he missed terribly.

"Maybe I will never see them again," he said of his parents. But he held out hope that he would someday see his wife and kids.

By last summer, his wife had given birth to another girl. In June, Omar, still in Germany, was among a group of refugees who met Samantha Power, then the U.S. ambassador to the U.N.

By then, he was feeling increasingly anxious.

"Maybe my family will die. Maybe my children will die, OK? What's the use of coming here? I came here just to help them," he said. "What's the use if I come here and I lose my family?"

"I think his heart is breaking," Power told NPR.

But a few weeks ago, Omar got back in touch with NPR with some good news.

"My life completely changed," he said.

His wife and daughters arrived in Germany in January.

First, they were smuggled overnight across the Syrian border into Turkey. Walaa Omar carried their baby, now 14 months old, during the 10-hour trek in November. Lamar, 4, and Lojain, 2, walked alongside. Once in Turkey, they registered with the German Embassy, which contacted Omar.

Omar described the January day when he saw his wife and children for the first time in more than a year.

"I feel my heart will go out of my chest," he said. "I'm waiting at the airport and I look to the people who get out from the airplane — no, not my wife, not my family." And then, he said, "I saw my little girl, she saw me, and I run immediately to hug my daughter and I was crying with my daughter and my wife. Everyone in the airport was taking photo for us."

Omar says that for the first five days after the reunion, he couldn't sleep. He would wake up and look at his daughters sleeping beside him.

"I'm not dreaming," he said. "I ask myself — I'm not dreaming. I speak with my wife. We are here together again. We are not dreaming."

This is the end of a chapter, but not the end of Omar's story. Omar's wife and children only have a temporary visa. They're hoping for permission to stay permanently in Germany.

Omar, who has been granted a three-year asylum period, is working on getting his teaching qualifications and enrolling the kids in school. His wife wants to start learning German. And the entire family is about to move into a new, bigger home, with a garden.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

We have an update now on a story that we've been telling chapter by chapter for two years. It began in Izmir, Turkey, a city on the edge of the Mediterranean Sea, where I met a teacher from Syria in his early 30s. Monzer Omar sat with a crowd of Syrian families on flattened cardboard boxes on the sidewalk.

MONZER OMAR: We have no home, no house - all of us destroyed.

SHAPIRO: He'd been in Izmir for a week waiting for a phone call from a human smuggler who would put them onto a crowded raft headed for Greece.

M. OMAR: Smuggler call us. We'll be ready, five minutes.

SHAPIRO: Five minutes.

M. OMAR: Five minutes - get ready and go in the night. We not know we go.

SHAPIRO: It could be tonight.

M. OMAR: To the beach, to the beach - get, get, get, get.

SHAPIRO: Monzer Omar had left his pregnant wife and two young daughters in Syria with his parents. He didn't want them to risk their lives making the dangerous journey to Europe.

M. OMAR: I thank God for not to bring them with - maybe die in any minute, any second.

SHAPIRO: You might recall hearing about Monzer Omar. NPR reporters followed along on his journey, joining him by foot, by bus and by train across Greece, Macedonia, Serbia, Hungary, Austria and finally Germany. Every day, he sent voice messages to his wife, his daughters and his elderly parents.

M. OMAR: Maybe I will never saw them again. But my wife and daughter - I hope I will see them in the near future.

SHAPIRO: His oldest 4-year-old daughter would say, Papa, where are you? I miss you. Monzer Omar settled in the city of Dortmund. Last summer, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power visited Germany to meet with Syrian refugees, including Monzer Omar. I got a chance to ask the ambassador how he seemed.

SAMANTHA POWER: Well, on the one hand, he's getting settled in Germany. On the other hand, he's away from his three kids, and I think his heart is breaking.

SHAPIRO: Three kids - his wife had given birth. A few weeks ago, we got some news about Monzer, so we sent our producer in Germany, Esme Nicholson, to check in. She took the three-hour train from Berlin to Dortmund.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Ladies and gentleman, thanks for choosing...

ESME NICHOLSON, BYLINE: Here we are. This is where Monzer is now living. It's in a very pleasant surroundings, lots of green parkland. You can probably hear the birds singing. And it's pretty quiet here this afternoon. Let's go and see if he's home. He's certainly expecting me.

SHAPIRO: So you walked up to Monzer Omar's apartment building, and...

NICHOLSON: I walked up. I rang the buzzer. They were ready and waiting. In fact, Monzer had already sent me quite a few texts asking me where I was (laughter).

SHAPIRO: Inside the apartment, Monzer had laid out a Syrian banquet - lamb, tabbouleh, cake - enough food for a family.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #1: (Laughter).

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #2: (Crying).

M. OMAR: (Foreign language spoken).

SHAPIRO: Monzer opened the door with a baby in his arms. His wife and daughters have arrived in Germany.

NICHOLSON: It's Monzer with his girls. He's got his girls back. Lamar is 4. Then there's Lojain, who's 2-and-a-half, and then Lossin, who's 1, and then his wife, Walaa. They only arrived two months ago, so I think for him, it's still a real novelty that they're there and finally here in Germany.

SHAPIRO: They had their own challenges getting out of Syria into Turkey where they registered with the German embassy.

NICHOLSON: Monzer was telling me about her arduous journey from Syria over the border in November, which of course was winter. And they were smuggled by foot over the border, and she had to walk for 10 hours nonstop with three kids. Of course she was carrying their youngest daughter, which meant of course that their 2-year-old and 4-year-old also had to walk for 10 hours nonstop.

SHAPIRO: Well, Esme Nicholson, when you visited the apartment, you were kind enough to put us on the phone with Monzer Omar, so I had a chance to talk with him again. Let's listen.

M. OMAR: (Laughter) My life completely changed.

SHAPIRO: For good.

M. OMAR: Yeah, for good - of course for good.

SHAPIRO: Can you tell me the story of the day you learned your family was coming to Germany?

M. OMAR: I can't describe my feeling. I was in a Deutsche course...

SHAPIRO: You were in a German course.

M. OMAR: ...When I receive the email from the German ambassador in Turkey.

SHAPIRO: The German embassy in Turkey, yes.

M. OMAR: They told me, you can send your family to make visa.

SHAPIRO: And in the middle of class, did you jump up and shout? What happened?

M. OMAR: (Laughter) Yeah, yeah, exactly. That's what happened. Teacher said, oh, Monzer, what happen? I just heard my family will come. She was very happy for me, said congratulations.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #3: (Unintelligible).

M. OMAR: (Foreign language spoken).

SHAPIRO: Is that your daughter that you're talking to in the background there?

M. OMAR: Yeah, yeah, they are here talking. She wants to eat some cake (laughter).

SHAPIRO: So that's the story of when you learned that your family would come to Germany. Tell me about the day you saw your wife and children for the first time in more than a year.

M. OMAR: (Laughter) I feel my heart will go out of my chest (laughter). They come 1 o'clock in the midnight in Yanyuwa.

SHAPIRO: The 18th of January at 1:00 a.m.

M. OMAR: Yeah, in January. I was waiting in the airport...

SHAPIRO: And you're waiting at the airport.

M. OMAR: ...On the - I look to the people who get out from the (laughter) airplane. No, no, not my wife, not my family (laughter). I saw the - my little girl take a big bag. She saw me, and I ran immediately to hug my daughter on the - I was crying with my daughter and my wife. Really, everyone in the airport was take a photo for us.

(LAUGHTER)

SHAPIRO: When I talked to you the last time, you were afraid that you might never see your wife and children again.

M. OMAR: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

SHAPIRO: And now they are with you.

M. OMAR: Thank God. Yeah, yeah, exactly. They are with me and every day. For five days after they come, I can't sleep. I woke up and look at (laughter) my daughters sleeping beside me. I'm not dreaming. I ask myself, I'm not a dreaming. I speak with my wife. We are here together again. We are not dreaming, yeah.

SHAPIRO: I wondered if we should talk to her and say hello to her.

M. OMAR: Yeah I know. Walaa...

WALAA OMAR: (Unintelligible).

M. OMAR: Ari want to speak with you.

W. OMAR: Hello.

SHAPIRO: Hello. This is Ari.

W. OMAR: Hello (laughter).

M. OMAR: Ari.

W. OMAR: (Laughter) Welcome.

SHAPIRO: Welcome to Germany.

(LAUGHTER)

W. OMAR: Thank you.

SHAPIRO: Do you like Germany?

W. OMAR: Yeah (laughter). Yeah, yeah, with Monzer (laughter) - like.

M. OMAR: Happy story (laughter) - this is happy ending.

SHAPIRO: Monzer Omar, I'm so happy to talk to you again. Congratulations, and good luck with your new life in Germany with your family.

M. OMAR: Thank you, thank you, thank you, Ari. I'm so happy also to hear from you again. Thank you, Ari.

SHAPIRO: It is the end of this chapter, but not the end of his story. Monzer's wife and children have a temporary visa. They're hoping for permission to stay permanently. Monzer is working on getting his teaching qualifications and enrolling the kids in school. His wife has started learning German, and the entire family is about to move into a new, bigger home with a garden.

(SOUNDBITE OF TULPA SONG, "PRETTY THINGS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.