Alaa Houd fled Syria's civil war and went to Germany. His greatest wish was to bring his wife and son to a safe country. Now, the young family is finally reunited.
Little Gabriel is only three years old but he has already gone through a lot. He did not see his father for over a year - in fact - for 400 days. Alaa Houd, a 29-year-old man, fled Syria's civil war and went to Germany. Now, a year after his escape, the father can finally take his son into his arms.
"In Syria, he always held a pillow against his ears at night to stop hearing the airplanes and bombings," says the child's mother, Hiba. The twenty-six-year-old traveled one and half days with her son to reach Germany. First, the two drove in a car from their home in Damascus to Lebanon. After that, they flew from Beirut to Belgrade and then, to Düsseldorf. Despite the long journey, the stress has not left its mark on her. "I am so happy about my new, safe life in Germany. I can finally be together with my family again."
The best day of my life
"We were separated one year, a month and five days. It was pure agony. I missed everything about him," she says and gives her husband a loving glance. They have known each other for nine years and have been married for four years. Alaa, the proud father, is rocking his son on his lap and cannot stop smiling. "This is the best day of my life," he says.
A lot has happened since he last saw his wife and his son. First, he undertook a dangerous journey from Syria to Europe. His boat sank in the Mediterranean Sea between Turkey and Greece. He floated in the sea for hours until the Greek coast guard finally pulled him out. After that, he traveled to Frankfurt with the help of a smuggler in Athens.
In the winter of 2014, after experiencing a personal odyssey, going to several refugee reception centers, he finally ended up in Radevormwald, a town near the western Germany city of Wuppertal. For ten months, he lived in crowded quarters with seven other refugees, always hoping that his asylum application would be accepted and that he could bring his family to Germany. In July 2014, after months of waiting, he finally received notification of his right to remain in Germany. Shortly thereafter, he moved into a shared apartment in Bonn.
Family life in the chatroom
All the while he used his smartphone to stay in touch with his wife and son. The Internet connection in Syria was often not good enough for a video call on Skype; a chat had to do. Concern and longing for his family sometimes drove him mad. "Before this, I had never been separated from my family more than three days," he said.
Back to the reunion: Alaa was so excited the night before his family arrived; he hardly slept a wink. But he is not tired now. He wants to go out to buy his son a bicycle today. His family never tires him. Hiba has already warned him to clear away all the fragile articles in the room and put them out of their son's reach. "He has too much energy," say the two parents laughingly.
The young family does not have much time to rest. The first appointment at the Immigration Office is on Monday: Applications for a new apartment must be filled out. Gabriel is going along. He will soon learn that applications are a part of life in Germany - as is safety.