LONDON - Two disabled Syrian refugees who embarked on an extraordinary journey to escape Islamic State have had an emotional reunion with family members in Germany.
Alan Mohammad and his sister Gyan have muscular dystrophy. In 2014, Islamic State fighters were approaching their hometown of Al Hakasah in Syria, and all of the family members fled their home.
They tried to reach Turkey three times, but say they were fired on by border guards on each occasion. They then managed to cross into Iraq, but again Islamic State swept across the region, forcing them to flee once more – and this time the family was split up.
Alan and Gyan’s father and sister were able to reach Germany. For the disabled siblings, the journey was far more tortuous. They crossed the mountains from Iraq into Turkey strapped to either side of a horse. Their mother, brother and younger sister pushed their wheelchairs behind. Eventually they reached Turkey’s western coast, and paid smugglers $750 each to put them on an inflatable dinghy to Greece.
Alan Mohammad recalls the voyage.
“Every time I look around I see babies, children crying inside the boat. It was a very difficult moment,” he said.
The engine on the dinghy cut out, leaving them adrift for four hours until they were spotted by an EU patrol vessel and taken to a refugee camp on the island of Chios.
The family arrived on the Greek mainland just as the route to Western Europe through the Balkans was closed. They remained stranded in a camp for several months. Amnesty International highlighted their situation – and they received thousands of support letters.
“This is unfortunately not the only case that Amnesty International has come across about people with disabilities vulnerable people, that arrived in Greece after a very, very difficult and dangerous journey, because there is no other way to arrive in Europe,” said Monica Costa Riba of Amnesty, who has met the family several times.
In September, Alan, Gyan and their family members were moved to a Greek hotel. Then last week they were told to pack their bags for a flight to Munich. They later arrived in the northern German city of Hanover, and the whole family was finally reunited after more than a year apart.
“I remember on one occasion Alan telling me that ‘if I close my eyes, my dream is to see me with my father again,” said Costa Riba. “And finally in this case, this has happened. But this is not the case for thousands of families that are still stranded in Greece waiting for Europe to accept them and to welcome them in other countries.”
Relocating refugees from Greece and Italy remains well behind schedule. However, the European Union says its resettlement process, whereby refugees are given safe passage to Europe from camps bordering Syria, is making good progress, with close to 15,000 people given asylum under the program.