There were scenes of delight in Dublin Airport in December as Ahmad Muselmani was reunited with his family after more than five years apart.
Ahmad was forced to leave his home in Aleppo in 2015, not knowing when he would see his parents or sisters again.
Although Ahmad describes Aleppo as a “historical, lively city”, when the Syrian conflict worsened it became an increasingly dangerous place to be and, despite the concerns of his parents, he made the difficult decision to make his way to Turkey and on to Greece in order to seek safety.
However, on the border between Greece and Macedonia, Ahmad found the conditions unbearable, with thousands of migrants stuck in one place without enough food or accommodation. It was two weeks before he was able to find a tent to sleep in.
“It was winter and the situation was horrible. I’d made a mistake going there. There wasn’t enough food or tents, it was heavily raining and there was mud everywhere.
“I got badly sick and got an infection in my stomach and an infection in my eyes so that I couldn’t see properly for ten days.”
While there, Ahmad registered for the relocation programme and was pleased to find out that he would be travelling to Ireland. By the end of 2016 he had arrived in Mosney Accommodation Centre and was in touch with the Irish Red Cross migration programme. Through the Irish Red Cross Pledge a Bed scheme he was introduced to and moved in with an Irish couple in Rathgar.
“Martin and Róisín helped me take my first steps in life here. They were interested in my background and my culture and we’d eat dinner together and talk about my life. They helped me start a course in Rathmines and get a job. They were really open people.”
Although Ahmad was settling in to life in Ireland, he was devastated to discover that, because he was over 18, he did not qualify for reunification and therefore his family would not be able to join him.
Over the next two years Ahmed worked with a specialist Irish Red Cross caseworker who helped him further his education, employment and overall integration.
However, Ahmad was not ready to let go of his dream of bringing his family to Ireland and when his Irish Red Cross caseworker sourced accommodation for them in Wicklow, that dream looked like it might be one step closer to finally become a reality.
Ahmad’s application to the IHAP programme, which was established to provide humanitarian admission to Ireland for eligible family members of Irish citizens and those with protection status in Ireland, was accepted in March 2020. However, there was still the vital matter of actually getting his family to Ireland. Ahmad’s IRC migration caseworker told him about the Travel Assistance Programme, which is operated by the Restoring Family Links section at the Irish Red Cross.
Through the Travel Assistance Programme the Irish Red Cross offer financial assistance to those who have been granted FRU permission to bring their family members to Ireland who otherwise could not afford to travel. The IRC operates this programme with the International Organisation for Migration who arrange all the travel and transit arrangements and pre-departure medicals. Ahmad contacted the RFL Desk Officer and his case was initiated in May 2020, after which he received support with all aspects of travel arrangements for his family, including securing Irish entry visas for them.
Although the way was now clear for Ahmad’s family’s arrival, Covid-19 restrictions caused further delays. However, it was all worth it when they stepped off the plane and were able to be reunited once more.
“My parents were the last ones to get off the plane and had to go through some procedures. I was so nervous when they were late coming out. But eventually I saw my dad, he was so tired. It was such a big day for me. That was my purpose, to bring them here. I want my younger sisters to have a new life.
“When I used to speak to my father he would cry because he never believed it was going to come true – he didn’t think there was a way for him to come to Europe and be reunited with his son. Even now, he is still saying ‘I don’t believe I am here beside you, sitting with you, eating with you’.
“I still get depressed thinking about what happened to us and the delay in my education all because of the war. But thank God for Martin, Róisín and my Irish and Syrian friends and the Irish Red Cross. I could have never got here without their support.”