Here’s an update on a story that NPR started following almost two years ago in Izmir, Turkey, a city on the edge of the Mediterranean Sea. That’s where NPR’s Ari Shapiro first met a teacher from Syria — a father in his early 30s named Monzer al-Omar.
Omar had been in Izmir for a week, waiting for a phone call from a human smuggler who would put him onto a crowded raft heading for Greece. Once the call came, Omar said, he would have just five minutes to gather his belongings, run to the beach, get on a raft and go.
Over the months that followed, NPR reporters followed Omar on his journey — joining him by foot, bus and train across Greece, Macedonia, Serbia, Hungary, Austria, and finally to Germany, where he settled in the city of Dortmund.
Omar, originally from a village near the city of Hama, had left his pregnant wife, Walaa Ahmed, and two young daughters in Syria with his parents. He didn’t want them to risk their lives making the dangerous journey with him to Europe. But every day, he would send a voice message home to his wife, children and parents, whom he missed terribly.
“Maybe I will never see them again,” he said of his parents. But he held out hope that he would someday see his wife and kids.
By last summer, his wife had given birth to another girl. In June, Omar, still in Germany, was among a group of refugees who met Samantha Power, then the U.S. ambassador to the U.N.
By then, he was feeling increasingly anxious.
“Maybe my family will die. Maybe my children will die, OK? What’s the use of coming here? I came here just to help them,” he said. “What’s the use if I come here and I lose my family?”
“I think his heart is breaking,” Power told NPR.
But a few weeks ago, Omar got back in touch with NPR with some good news.
“My life completely changed,” he said.
His wife and daughters arrived in Germany in January.
First, they were smuggled overnight across the Syrian border into Turkey. Walaa Omar carried their baby, now 14 months old, during the 10-hour trek in November. Lamar, 4, and Lojain, 2, walked alongside. Once in Turkey, they registered with the German Embassy, which contacted Omar.
Omar described the January day when he saw his wife and children for the first time in more than a year.
“I feel my heart will go out of my chest,” he said. “I’m waiting at the airport and I look to the people who get out from the airplane — no, not my wife, not my family.” And then, he said, “I saw my little girl, she saw me, and I run immediately to hug my daughter and I was crying with my daughter and my wife. Everyone in the airport was taking photo for us.”
Omar says that for the first five days after the reunion, he couldn’t sleep. He would wake up and look at his daughters sleeping beside him.
“I’m not dreaming,” he said. “I ask myself — I’m not dreaming. I speak with my wife. We are here together again. We are not dreaming.”
This is the end of a chapter, but not the end of Omar’s story. Omar’s wife and children only have a temporary visa. They’re hoping for permission to stay permanently in Germany.
Omar, who has been granted a three-year asylum period, is working on getting his teaching qualifications and enrolling the kids in school. His wife wants to start learning German. And the entire family is about to move into a new, bigger home, with a garden.