19 August marked the one year anniversary of Abeer Yaseen´s arrival in Norway. The woman from Latakia in Syria fled with her four daughters to Turkey to escape the war in her home country. Her daughters, aged 17, 14 and 7(twins), are now living with their grandmother in Turkey while waiting for family reunification. The process is tedious, and Abeer has not seen her children for more than 18 months.
This is her story.
The Escape from Syria
Abeer holds a masters degree in economics, and worked with management operations at a sewing factory for five years. The factory exported cotton clothing to France, and Abeer was in charge of five rows of sewing machines with 12 machines per row. She succeeded in increasing both the efficiency and quality while working at the factory. Abeer is also a judo master, and thought children for many years.
In 2013, Abeer decided that enough was enough. The situation in Syria was too dangerous for her and her daughters, and she made the difficult decision to flee for Turkey. After a hazardous escape across the border, the family ended up in the border town of Antakya, where she was able to get a job as teacher in a nearby refugee camp.
The job was unpaid, and she decided to move her family to Istanbul, where the promise of a paid teaching job was seen as a ticket for starting a new and better life. The job fell through, and the dream of getting a fresh start seemed further and further in the distance.
Months went by, and after connecting with a Norwegian Drop volunteer online, Abeer decided that Norway would be the perfect place to go for the family. She would make the attempt of crossing over to Greece, and from there continue onwards to Norway.
As it was too expensive and dangerous to bring the four children, Abeer´s mother came over from Syria to take care of them.
In February 2016, Abeer said goodbye to her daughters and started her journey towards Norway.
Hard times in Greece
Over the years, many have failed the attempt of reaching Europe by boat. Abeer crossed over from Turkey to Greece in a boat packed with men, woman and children. The weather was perfect that day, and they were able to reach Greek waters. Here, they got picked up by the Greek Coastguard, and brought to the island of Lesvos.
On Lesvos, Abeer ended up in Moria refugee camp. “The camp was like hell”, she says, describing how people were living under terrible conditions. The initial plan was to go straight to the Greek mainland, but Abeer decided to volunteer with Doctors Without Borders to help other refugees in the camp.
“The camp was like hell.”
After a while, rumours about Greece closing its boarders reached Lesvos. Abeer took the first ferry to Athens, and started working her way north towards the Macedonian border.
The rumours proved to be true. Abeer made several attempts to cross the border, but did not succeed.
She ended up in a refugee camp run by the military in Northern Greece. Abeer helped camp management with translation work, and was offered to share accommodation with staff members. She declined, and spent the nights sleeping in a poorly constructed tent. The conditions were horrible, with heavy rain showers and temperatures around five degrees.
After a few days, an acquaintance of the Norwegian Drop volunteer turned up in the camp. He saw the difficult conditions she was living under, and persuaded her to leave. This was no place to stay.
Abeer was reluctant, but decided to give up on crossing the border for now.
The Norwegian Drop volunteer arranged for Abeer to be accepted as a volunteer with A Drop in the Ocean, and she soon found herself working in a refugee camp in Chios.
Volunteering with A Drop in the Ocean
In addition to doing normal duties, Abeer helped translate from Arabic to English.
“At the time I was half volunteer, half refugee”, Abeer says.
“I was half volunteer, half refugee.”
Abeer stayed with A Drop in the Ocean in Chios four months. She had not given up on her dream of going to Norway, but decided that it was time to apply for asylum in Greece.
In Chios, authorities denied her to hand in an application, and she therefore went back to Athens to make another attempt there. In Athens, she was met with another decline. At the time, Greece had stopped accepting asylum applications, and with closed borders, chances of being reunited with her four daughters any time soon seemed slim.
Waiting in Norway
Desperate times call for desperate measures. Abeer was able to get hold of a false passport, and soon found herself on a plane bound for Oslo and Norway.
Her dream was finally coming true.
After volunteering with A Drop in the Ocean, Abeer found herself with plenty of friends in Norway. They picked her up at the airport, gave her a place to stay and helped her out in manoeuvring the asylum process.
She was quickly granted asylum, and was able to start the process of making a life in Norway.
19 August marked the one year anniversary of Abeer´s arrival in Norway. She is attending Norwegian classes, and is picking up more of the language each day.
There is only one problem. Her four daughters are still in Turkey.
The process of getting family reunification has proven to be slow. Interviews, DNA tests, waiting.
It has been 18 months since Abeer left the children behind with their grandmother in Turkey. For her twin daughters, aged 7, the waiting time has been particularly difficult. Her two other daughters, aged 14 and 17, are helping their grandmother as best as they can.
Modern technology makes life a little easier, and Abeer is able to keep in touch with her daughters via Skype. Still, it is not good for children to be without their mother for that long. They are not attending school in Turkey, and Abeer hope that they will be able to catch up when they get to Norway.
But when will that happen? No one knows, no one can tell. Getting information about the family reunification process has proven to be extremely difficult.
Hopefully, Abeer will have her daughters with her on Norwegian soil in the near future.
TV2 has also picked up Abeer´s story – see their report here.
By Eivind Oskarson, Information Officer at A Drop in the Ocean