Video: Surprise reunion of a Syrian refugee and his daughter after five years apart
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Anas Al-Ayoubi, a Syrian refugee living in France, hadn't seen his daughter for five years. So when he found out that she had safely arrived in Germany, he decided to pay her a surprise visit. The heart-warming video of them being reunited has since become a symbol of hope for millions of families separated by war. FRANCE 24 met Al-Ayoubi in Paris.
Since it broke out five years ago, the Syrian civil war has displaced more than 12 million Syrians and forced five million people to seek refuge abroad. The fighting has laid waste to communities and torn entire families apart. Al-Ayoubi had no other choice but to flee his country in 2011. It would be another five years before he would see his daughter again.
Last March, that long wait finally came to an end in a supermarket in Germany. Al-Ayoubi decided to film the reunion. At first, he uploaded the video to his own Facebook page. But since then, more and more internet users have been sharing the clip.
"I wanted to film our reunion because there are so many Syrian families that have been separated by war"Anas al-Ayoubi is a political activist and refugee in Paris.
I lived in a majority-Kurdish, working-class neighbourhood of Damascus. It was marginalised and discriminated against by the ruling authorities. I have a daughter, Maria, from my first marriage. When the revolution began in 2011, I took to the streets to protest peacefully against the regime. But when government forces started firing on the protesters, I refused to take up arms and join the brigade that my friends had created.
Nevertheless, my pro-democracy activism made me a wanted man. So I decided to leave. I went to the United Arab Emirates, and then to Turkey, where I was able to get a visa to ask for political asylum in France. Then I settled in Paris. During all these years, I kept in touch with my daughter, who was only two years old when I had to leave Syria. We spoke using WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger or Viber. She grew up far from me, but I remained close to her.
"Every time I could, I bought her a present"
When the situation began to spiral out of control in Syria, my ex-wife's family also decided to leave. They crossed Turkey and made it to Greece before finally putting in a request for asylum in Germany. I often worried about my daughter when she was in Syria. I went through hell, counting down the days until they arrived in Europe. I missed her so much. Every time I could, I sent her a present. When I decided to pay her a surprise visit in Germany, I was carrying more presents than Santa's sleigh!
I wanted to film our reunion because there are so many Syrian families that have been separated by war. I know that many people cried when they saw this video. I received so many messages. I understand exactly how they feel. I have other family members who are still in Syria. I just feel overwhelmingly happy to have found my daughter after so many years.
"It felt like a dream, but it was real!"
My friend with whom I stayed in Germany filmed the moment. I spoke to my ex-wife to prepare everything beforehand: I knew where and when they were planning to go shopping that day. Once inside the supermarket, I called my ex-wife to find out where she was. She replied: "In the shampoo aisle." When I got there, I looked at my daughter. What a feeling: to be able to squeeze her in my arms and feel her by my side. It was incredible. She had thought I would visit her a month later, but there I was. It felt like a dream, but it was real!
We spent the entire day together. I took her to the best restaurant in town, we ate ice cream, and I bought her whatever clothes she wanted. I couldn't say no to anything! I wanted to let her know how much I loved her and how much I had missed her.
I spent a week with her before heading back to Paris. I'm going to see her regularly. I also hope that she'll come to see me, to discover a city that I've become deeply attached to.