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In Pics: Syrian father torn from family is reunited a year later in Cyprus

Ammar Hammasho was photographed the moment he was reunited with his wife and children in Cyprus after a year of separation caused by the Syrian war. Here’s the story behind the picture.

world Updated: Sep 15, 2017 11:25 IST
Ammar Hammasho had been a worker in Cyprus before returning to Syria in 2008. He married, raised a family and built a home and field to work in. Separated by the war and losing all back home, he finally managed to meet his family.
Ammar Hammasho had been a worker in Cyprus before returning to Syria in 2008. He married, raised a family and built a home and field to work in. Separated by the war and losing all back home, he finally managed to meet his family.(Yiannis Kourtoglou / REUTERS)

After more than a year of separation Syrian refugee Ammar Hammasho was finally, albeit briefly, reunited with his wife and four children through a chain link fence topped with barbed wire in Cyprus.

Hammasho, who is from the war-ravaged Idlib region, fell to his knees and kissed each of his three eldest children through the three metre-high barrier encircling a migrant reception centre at Kokkinotrimithia, west of the Cypriot capital Nicosia.

Ammar Hammasho poses for a photograph outside his house in Limassol, Cyprus on September 13, 2017. He worked as a construction worker for a year amassing $6,000 to pay traffickers to bring his family over. (Yiannis Kourtoglou / REUTERS)

His youngest toddler, Jumah – named after their second-born who was killed in an air raid in 2015 - was held up by his wife Shamuos. He kissed the protracted palm of Sham, his tiny daughter, who was dressed in a black frock neatly tucked in at the waist with a belt, small white jacket and pink sandals.

“The policeman told me to wait half an hour to finish the count. I couldn’t wait, I saw the kids through the fence and I did this,” he said, waving his hands over his head.

“The kids ran over. I just wanted to see them, for my heart to go back into its place,” the 34-year-old construction worker told Reuters on Wednesday.

The reunion came on Sunday, just hours after Hammasho’s wife and their children aged 7, 5, 4 and 18 months came ashore with 300 other Syrians in north-western Cyprus after a 24-hour trip on a small boat from Mersin in Turkey, in what was one of the largest mass landings on the island since the Syrian war began.

Syrian refugee children are seen on a bus at the Kokkinotrimithia refugee camp outside Nicosia, Cyprus September 10, 2017. Passengers reported paying $2,000 each for the trip taking them out of the Syrian conflict zone. (Yiannis Kourtoglou / REUTERS)

Hammasho knew his family were trying to leave Syria, but didn’t know precisely when.

“When I read on the Internet that about 250 were heading to Cyprus I knew it was them,” he said with a broad smile.

“I WILL GO HOME” AFTER WAR

Hammasho had taken a similar route one year ago, landing in Cyprus on September 06, 2016. Working as a construction worker, he managed to amass the $6,000 to pay a trafficker to get his family to Cyprus.

He now has ‘subsidiary’ protection status, which is one step short of being recognized as a refugee.

“I’m told they will be back with me on Friday, or maybe Sunday,” Hammasho said from a tiny bedsit in Limassol, a sprawling coastal city 100 km (60 miles) away from the reception camp.

Ammar Hammasho, kisses his child through a chain link fence topped with barbed wire at the refugee camp in Kokkinotrimithia outside Nicosia, Cyprus on September 10, 2017. (Yiannis Kourtoglou / REUTERS)

Speaking in the distinct Cypriot Greek dialect, he has the benefit of language, and friends, having already worked four years in Cyprus from 2004 to 2008.

“I thought the minute I left (in 2008), that would be that. I built a house (in Syria). I got married. I bought a field. Sixteen skales,” he said, using a Cypriot measurement term to describe his 1.6 hectares.

“I worked day and night, do you understand? Now I (still) have a field. But my house is dust.”

202 men, 30 women and 73 children arrived on September 10, 2017 from Mersin in Turkey in what is thought to be the largest number of migrants to reach Cyprus in a single day. (Yiannis Kourtoglou / REUTERS)

Hammasho’s second-eldest child, Jumah, was almost five when he was killed. Remaining in Syria was simply not an option, he said.

“Look, in Syria right now you cannot live a life. I don’t have a home. I lost a baby… I don’t want to dirty my hands with blood, do you understand?

“If you want to eat bread… you have to have blood on your hands. You have to be either a jihadist, or be with (President Bashar al) Assad, or anyone else, and steal or kill. And if you start that, you are finished. That is what life is like there now. I can’t do it. There are those who can.”

Remaining in Syria was not an option Ammar said, having lost his second-eldest child, Jumah, who was almost five when he was killed. He now counts the days until he can finally be with his family. (Yiannis Kourtoglou / REUTERS)

Hammasho is looking for a house so he and his family can start anew. But he says it will only be temporary until the family can return to Syria one day.

“As soon as it stops I’m leaving. I will go back to my field. I have a machine to extract water. I have fields to water. It’s my country and I will go home.”