Syrian family reunited, against the odds, in Greece

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Abdul Salam Al Khawien, 37, right, and his wife Kariman, 32, left, pose with their children for a family photo, at their apartment in the northern city of Thessaloniki, Greece, Saturday, May 1, 2021. Sundered in the deadly chaos of an air raid, a Syrian family of seven has been reunited, against the odds, three years later at a refugee shelter in Greece's second city of Thessaloniki. (AP Photo/Giannis Papanikos)

THESSALONIKI – Torn apart in the deadly chaos of an air raid, a Syrian family of seven has been reunited, against the odds, three years later at a refugee shelter in Greece's second city of Thessaloniki, a centuries-old melting point of cultures overlooking the Aegean Sea.

When the warplanes screamed in over the village of Dana, near Idlib in Syria, in September 2017, Abdul Salam Al Khawien was at home with his five children. His wife, Kariman, was out shopping in the marketplace. Bombs burst among the stalls, scattering corpses and knocking her unconscious.

She spent the next week recovering in a clinic, and by the time she was well enough to leave, Abdul had fled with the children to safety across the Turkish border, some 15 kilometers (9 miles) away.

Now in different countries, lacking mobile phones, internet or any other means of communicating or learning what had happened to each other, Kariman and Abdul each lost hope that the other had survived.

Until, one day last August, Kariman's brother discovered a social media account with a photograph of her eldest son, Hamza. It had been opened by Abdul, who had managed to reach Greece with the children — in his fifth attempt, having paid smugglers 5,000 euros ($6,000) for berths in a flimsy boat with more than 60 others — and had been granted asylum.

She immediately got in touch.

“I had a good feeling that day,” Abdul, a 37-year-old former car salesman from a village near Homs, told The Associated Press. “When I saw the message I nearly went mad with joy. I didn't tell the children, though. I thought it would be better for them to find out when she got here.”

Before, he said, whenever the children had asked about their mother, he told them she was in Syria and would rejoin them one day. “But they suspected she was dead," he said. "I had lost all hope.”