Thursday 13, June 2013
BUDAPEST, 13 June (UNHCR) – For Mohamed Hussein Ali, Bulgaria became his safe haven when he was compelled to flee Iraq almost three years ago.
A year after his arrival, he welcomed his wife and two children to Sofia and the family started anew their lives together.
Back in 2010, after sectarian groups began targeting him for working for an international organization in the Fallujah area, Ali realized his home was no longer safe.
The former history teacher began searching the internet for a European country that would accept him, and later on his family. From the on-line chat forums, Ali learnt about Bulgaria’s favorable legislation and practices on family reunification compared to those of other countries in the region.
His findings chime with the findings of UNHCR’s “Access to Family Reunification” report, which gives credit to Sofia for allowing both refugees and beneficiaries of international protection to apply for family reunification directly in Bulgaria, and for the manner in which the authorities handle applications.
“I thought that the best country to escape to was Bulgaria because if I went somewhere else I might not be able to see my kids,” says Ali from his three-bedroom flat overlooking the Bulgarian capital, Sofia, and surrounded by his family who received the same humanitarian status upon their arrival in November, 2012.
The Iraqi man had left his home back in 2010 with a heavy heart but high hopes that he would soon reunite with his wife and their two children – aged three and four at the time.
Ali first travelled to Turkey and, with the help of human smugglers, reached the Bulgarian border at Edirne, in October 2010 where he declared himself to the Bulgarian guards.
He received humanitarian status on June 30, 2011 and a month later filed his request for family reunification to the State Agency for Refugees (SAR).
Ali received a positive answer from Bulgaria’s SAR about a month after filing the application.
But just as reunion seemed imminent, conflict once more shook the lives of Ali and his family.
The processing of visas at the Bulgarian Embassy in Damascus was interrupted amidst Syria’s escalating internal war, and the procedure was halted for several months before the file was transferred to the Bulgarian consulate in Istanbul.
With financial help from relatives, the husband and wife managed to meet several times in Istanbul during the difficult time of separation.
Ali admits that he struggled through that long period of time, so far from those he loved most:
“We were just spending time waiting…I was unable to sleep from thinking so much about them.”
But despite the delay, caused by circumstances beyond the control of all those involved, Ali praises those who helped bring his family back together: from the people at the refugee center, to officials at Bulgaria’s SAR, and ultimately those at the consulate in Istanbul.
“The communication with officials was good – they helped me a lot… I can only wish the best for them,” says Ali.
The UNHCR report attributes smoother procedures in Bulgaria to the willingness of its officials to liaise by email to process cases, which eliminates not only difficulties associated with handling original documents but reduces the costs, which are usually borne by the applicants.
“I spent around 7,000 USD in total to reunite with my family,” says Ali.
“But for me this money is nothing because this was my dream…to bring them here.”
His wife gave birth to their third child – a girl – in Bulgaria seven months ago, and the other children are now at school.
”And I’m very happy to have a new-born child, my kids are everything to me.”
By Andreea Anca/UNHCR