Lebanon + 2 more

OPT: Refugee Stories - Deeb's Long Journey Home

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As she waited between the Syrian-Lebanese border, Manal Abdi said that she was experiencing the same emotions of joy that she felt the day she gave birth to her son Deeb. "I felt as though I was coming alive for the first time." Today was the day in which Manal would see her son for the first time after 15 months of separation.

Manal, a Palestinian Syrian woman who married an Iraqi man, gave birth to Deeb several years ago in Syria. The family decided to relocate to Lebanon but Deeb was refused entry at the border. The Lebanese authorities arrested Manal and her husband for violating their conditions of residency and her husband was deported to Iraq. Manal was barred from entering Lebanese territory and was put in prison. After she was sent to prison Manal requested that UNHCR in Lebanon take custody of her son so that he would not have to endure the hardship of prison life. Hopeful that her detention would not last for long, she decided that it was in her son's best interest to remain within the custody of UNHCR.

Manal says that her intentions should not be misconstrued as a desire to give up her son but rather as a way to keep him away from prison. It never occurred to her that she would have to be deprived of her son for such a long period of time. However, she was soon confronted with the complex reality of her situation: Manal was far away from her son, and her husband had abandoned her and returned to Iraq.

"I did not know how to get him back and I had no one to help me. Finally, I turned to UNRWA for help. UNHCR told me that I could have my son back only if I was able to secure a safe and healthy place for him to live. The UNRWA relief programme helped me and referred me to UNRWA's Women's Legal Bureau in Yarmouk. UNRWA social workers Hala Hamzeh and Hatefa Rashid led all the correspondence with UNHCR in Lebanon until my dreams came true and my son was returned to me," Manal explains.

The long series of petitions and correspondence required UNRWA and UNHCR to work closely together. The process required representatives from both agencies to raise the case through the legal affairs department in Lebanon. A report was sent to the court which urged that the child should be returned to his mother on the basis of personal stature law.

Throughout the long process, UNRWA sent Manal pictures of her son in order to give her a physical reminder of her son and to help comfort her during the long and gruelling months of the legal process. The courts sided in favour with Manal and proclaimed that she had the right to take her son out of SOS. Then the final coordination between the UNHCR Damascus- Protection Department and UNRWA allowed Deeb to finally re-enter Syria and start his new life with his mother. The joyful reunion occurred on 6 July 2009 on the Syrian-Lebanese border.

A ceremony was held in Yarmouk to commemorate this momentous occasion. Manal said that she was so grateful for the opportunity to be invited to the social worker's office in Yarmouk and thanked everyone for their help in assuring the safe return of her son. "A mother's heart is more than enough to bring everything back to normal," she said. Watching the child sitting in his mother's lap, one could not help but be moved to tears. Nothing is more natural and heart-warming than the picture of a mother and her son together at last.

Postscript: Manal is in a very critical situation. Her son Deeb has congenital heart disease and is in dire need of heart surgery. UNHCR has pledged to pay SYP 120,000 towards the cost of the operation and the rest of the costs are to be covered by Manal. Manal is currently searching for a donor that can provide her with the remaining SYP 80,000 in order to cover the cost of the operation. Although Manal's husband has been informed of the situation, he has little contact with his family and has not sent any money to assist his family despite these difficult times.

Text by Hatifa Rashid and Haley Bobseine