By Ece Ceren Doğar

For 25-year-old Arezou* the last seven years have passed painfully slowly.

Separated from her young son while trying to make it from Turkey to Greece, she has spent this whole time not knowing how he was.

The young mother left Iran with her son Najeeb*, then five, to escape her violent parents-in-law, after the death of her husband, who she was forced to marry when she was 12 years old.

It was while trying to cross the Aegean Sea from Turkey to Greece that Arezou was separated from Najeeb.  She decided there and then, that she was going to do whatever it took to get her son back.

After walking for three months, day and night, together with 35 other people who were also seeking to rebuild their lives in a place of safety, Arezou made it to Finland, a country 3,000 kilometres away. From Finland, she started searching for her son again.

“First I went to the authorities who referred me to the Finnish Red Cross. The Red Cross contacted the Turkish Red Crescent and they both started to manage the process for family reunification, while I continued to wait with hope. Now, here I am in Istanbul seven years later to pick up my son.”

Arezou’s seven years in limbo in Finland were marred by sadness and an inability to sleep. “My dream was to have a happy life with a house that I will live in with my child. In Finland, I had a house but it was empty and full of sadness. Now I have both a house and my son. For the first time in years, I can sleep. If I had not been patient and had given up, I would have lost everything but now I am the happiest woman in the world!  Now I can lead a real life like other people.”

She says the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement has given her a new life. “It was distressing not to know how my son was. Years have passed with doubts in my mind. However, now we are together, we will live both happiness and sadness together, face challenges together.

“I would like to thank both Finnish Red Cross and Turkish Red Crescent. Their staff accompanied us and provided all the services like accommodation and transportation making sure we were comfortable during our stay in Istanbul. We also ate dinner with the foster parents of my son Najeeb. They are happy, but also feel sad that he is leaving.”

Arezou returned to Finland with Najeeb on her birthday and says this happy outcome is the best gift she could have received.

Restoring Family Links (RFL) Programme in Turkey is financed by the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO) and strives for putting families back into contact and reunify with their relatives.

*Names have been changed at the request of the interviewees.