New border policy separates couple awaiting reunification visa

Muatasem, 35, has not seen his wife in two years.

Originally from the city of Manbij in northern Aleppo province, Muatasem and his wife fled south to Jordan in early 2014, as their hometown fell to Islamic State control.

The couple was deported six months later after Jordanian authorities discovered Muatasem working illegally at a restaurant outside the capital, Amman. In Syria, Muatasem worked as an accountant at a relative's restaurant.

Muatasem fled his hometown in northern Aleppo province and set out for Istanbul in 2014 with only enough money for him to travel alone. He hoped to raise enough money working as a tailor to apply for a family reunification visa—granted to spouses and children of people residing in Turkey—and bring his wife to Istanbul, he tells Syria Direct's Majdoleen a-Zouabi

 A family enters Turkey through Bab al-Hawa last month. Photo courtesy of Bab al-Hawa Crossing.

But earlier this month, Turkey announced it would no longer accept entry for thousands of Syrians waiting for reunification visas at the Bab al-Hawa crossing, the last operational border crossing with Syria.

“We inform you,” the statement read, “that the Turkish side has stopped welcoming family reunification requests until further notice."

Q: Describe how you felt when you heard that the crossing was being closed. How did your wife react?

It was a surprise. There were no words to express what I felt, other than ‘God help me.’ Turkey closed its border in our faces.

I’ve been waiting for so long to see my wife and to realize my dreams. All of it was destroyed in one moment.

My wife was silent [when she heard the news] and asked me how much longer she would have to wait. ‘It’s been two years without you,’ she said. ‘I don’t need any money from you—I just need you.’

Q: How did you first arrive in Turkey from Syria? When did you start the process to apply for a family reunification visa for your wife?

When the battles intensified in Aleppo province [in early 2014, as Islamic State fighters seized his hometown of Manbij], the Free Syrian Army helped smuggle me to Daraa province. I arrived [to Daraa province] after three days of fear and suffering along the way.

After a week in Daraa province, I went to the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan. I got myself smuggled out of the camp and found work in a restaurant in Zarqa. That still wasn’t enough for me to support my wife and family.

The worst day of my life came on July 22, 2014, six months after I started working in the restaurant. The police arrested me for working illegally, and detained me for hours. Eventually they took me to Zaatari, and the next day they deported me back to Syria.

I went from Daraa province to the Turkish border.

I crossed into Turkey in August 2014. I thought the suffering would ease a little, but it didn’t turn out that way because now I had to worry about the family reunification process.

Two years after arriving in Turkey, I was able to get a Turkish ID and residency. I immediately started the process of family reunification, but I was assigned case number 8,537. There were many other people [ahead of me] applying for the same thing.

Q: What is your plan now that the border crossing is closed?

I hope that the Turkish government will cancel its decision to keep the border closed, so that my wife can enter the country. I just want to live a stable life, after two years of suffering.

Majdoleen a-Zouabi

Majdoline is from Daraa province. She studied journalism in Syria before moving to Jordan in 2013.

Madeline Edwards

Madeline Edwards graduated from the College of Charleston with a bachelor’s degree in International Studies and Political Science in 2016. She was a Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) recipient in Arabic in 2013. Her studies have brought her to Jordan, Palestine and Turkey.