Yemeni family reunited in Montenegro after four years apart
Former opposition activist says there were times when he thought he would never see his wife and children again
PODGORICA, Montenegro, March 11 (UNHCR) - When his wife Aisha* and their four young children finally emerge into the arrivals hall at Podgorica airport, Yemeni lawyer Jamil* folds them into his arms and weeps for joy.
It has been more than four years since he fled for his life from Yemen and sought refuge in the tiny Balkan country of Montenegro.
"Honestly, I did not believe this was ever going to happen, and even now I still can't believe it," said the 47-year-old former opposition activist, happily. "There were many times I thought I would never see my family again, so this is like a new life for me."
Jamil escaped Yemen back in 2011, when conflict and instability began to make life a daily struggle. He spent several months in Syria, before travelling through Europe in the hope of finding protection in Germany.
But in Montenegro, a deteriorating spinal condition finally stopped him in his tracks.
After being granted asylum, Jamil had hopes of being safely reunited with his loved ones. Their life had been harder than ever without the pillar of the family, but the process of family reunification would take years.
While he waited for an answer, Jamil began to build a life in Montenegro - learning the language, integrating with the locals and making friends. But nothing could replace his family.
Then, just as Jamil was beginning to lose hope, UNHCR and IOM offices in Montenegro and Yemen stepped in to help reunite him with Aisha and the children. By January 2016, they were ready to leave for Podgorica, with UNHCR and IOM providing transit assistance all the way.
"It's hard to put into words how much I missed them," Jamil recalled. "My only wish was to make sure they are safe and well. I kept in touch with my wife all the time and we tried to explore all the options. And with the help of God, it worked in the end."
For Aisha and her children, it was their first ever plane journey. Relief washed over them when they landed. Now, reunited at last, the family will need some time to adapt to the new environment in the Montenegrin capital Podgorica.
"This is a big change for us. For a start, it's safe and peaceful," said Aisha. "Also, we don't have to worry that we'll experience water and electricity cuts as we did in Yemen. The climate is quite different, but we'll get used to that as long as we are away from danger."
Montenegro has seen a large number of asylum seekers pass through its territory over recent years. However, Jamil is one of the few who have opted to stay in the country and build his life there as a refugee. The family will initially be assisted by UNHCR and IOM with accommodation, clothing, language and psycho-social support.
"We wanted to ensure that the ordeal of Jamil and his loved ones is brought to an end, as family unity is a fundamental human right," said Mustafa Server Caylan, UNHCR's representative in Montenegro.
"Credit also goes to the Montenegrin government, which honoured its commitments stemming from international law by giving the family a safe haven," he added.
UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, strongly supports family reunification as a means of restoring basic dignity to a refugee's life. This policy not only upholds basic humanitarian principles, but also increases the potential of refugees during integration.
Being split from loved ones is one of the biggest traumas involved in forced displacement. After years of uncertainty, this Yemeni family are finally together again. It will take a while for the six of them to find their feet, but the process will be smoother now that they feel safe.
At last, they can look forward to a new life ahead. Yet, as Jamil says, they will never stop dreaming of a return to their homeland one day.
*Names changed for protection reasons
By Stefan Bulatovic in Podgorica, Montenegro