The Family Reunion Travel Assistance Programme helped reunite a Syrian baby, Omar Al Sharki, with his family at Heathrow Airport after four-months apart on Friday February 19th. The programme is led by the British Red Cross and supported by IOM through a number of services, including travel assistance. IOM staff travelled with Omar from Beirut to London to safely ensure the reunion with his parents.
Mousa and Rajaa Al Sharki were living in Aleppo, Syria with their four children when the conflict escalated and they were forced to leave as the safety of their children could no longer be guaranteed. Mousa decided to travel first to the UK to seek refuge, while Rajaa, at the time pregnant, went to Lebanon, where she gave birth to Omar. Mousa then managed to get a family reunion visa to bring his wife and children to Cardiff. However, an error on Omar’s passport, which stated he was born in Syria rather than Lebanon, meant he was not allowed to board the flight in Beirut.
Rajaa said: “The authorities in Lebanon told me if I didn't leave the country then, I would never be allowed to come to the UK. They said this was my only chance. I didn't want to leave my other children either. I had to make a snap decision - either way it was a huge sacrifice. I feel so guilty for leaving him, but I had no choice. Words can’t describe how happy I am to have him back with me.”
With the help of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) tracing unit in Beirut, Omar finally received the exit visa needed to leave the country.
Dipti Pardeshi, Chief of Mission of IOM in the UK said:
“We are very happy and proud to have been able to bring Omar to his family after having been through such a difficult ordeal. This is a testament to the family reunion avenues that provide safe paths for those displaced by conflict and instability. IOM has supported the British Red Cross in reuniting over 1,000 family members under its Travel Assistance Programme in the last year alone, and we hope to offer this service to many more.”
Karl Pike, Refugees and Asylum Policy Manager at the British Red Cross said:
“Bringing more refugee families together would be one of the most effective ways for the Government to do more to help right now - strengthening an existing safe and legal route for refugees to reach a place of safety.”