Family sitting on the ground at the Slovenian-Austrian border in Spielfeld, Austria | ANSA Archive
Family sitting on the ground at the Slovenian-Austrian border in Spielfeld, Austria | ANSA Archive

The UNHCR has launched a campaign to facilitate family reunifications in Austria by telling the stories of refugees there and the difficulties they face.

In a new campaign, the UN refugee agency UNHCR tells the stories of several asylum seekers in Austria who continue to be separated from their relatives by bureaucratic hurdles. The campaign calls for facilitated procedures for obtaining family reunification.

A love story separated by red tape 

One of the stories is that of Ziad Asaad and Kholoud Al-Nadir, a young Palestinian married couple in their early twenties who have always lived in a refugee camp in Syria. Ziad now lives alone in Vienna after obtaining asylum in Austria, while Kholoud is stuck in the Khan Al-Shih camp near Damascus. "I think about her every day," he tells UNHCR. "What can I do? I continue to take German lessons and try to stay focused on that." 

The Austrian law states that other members of the family unit must apply for reunification within three months of the refugee status being granted, but Kholoud was unable to respect this deadline due to fighting in Syria. The couple stays in touch using WhatsApp and Viber, they're waiting, until a solution can be found. 

Kholoud was unable to leave with Ziad because "we couldn't afford the journey for both of us", the woman said, adding that she did not want to put her husband's life in danger. "The boat I traveled on capsized twice and in the end, we were rescued and taken back to Turkey. We made it on the third attempt." When Kholoud will finally join her in Austria "I want him to arrive by plane and I will be at the airport to meet him", she says.

Reunification against illegal journeys 

The UNHCR states that in Austria the "gaps in the legal system and bureaucratic obstacles keep entire families apart". While those who have obtained refugee status "can immediately start procedures for family reunification, beneficiaries of 'subsidiary protection' must wait at least three years before making their request," the UNHCR explained. 

This difference in treatment does not take into account the fact that holders of subsidiary protection have the same identical humanitarian needs as those with refugee status. Enabling families to reunite "helps prevent illegal and dangerous journeys and then facilitates the path to integration. Happy people are good citizens," Christoph Pinter, head of the UNHCR Austria office, said.

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