The new year could not have been better for one western Sydney family who have finally been reunited after three agonising years.
The Bokae-Hashmeh family was torn apart trying to escape from the Syrian civil war. Some managed to reach Australia but others only got as far as a refugee camp in Lebanon. At last, those family members touched down at Sydney airport on New Year's Eve. "We all feel very very happy," said mother Kefah Hashmeh when her daughter arrived at the airport. "This New Year is lucky for us to start this New Year with all my family together." Kefah's daughter Samaher Bokae said she was relieved to be reunited with her family. "I haven't seen my parents in three years and my sister in five years," she said.
When the Syrian civil war started in 2011, the family fled their home in Homs but became separated. "Our home was bombed to the ground," said Samaher's father Mustafa Bokae. "All our possessions were stolen, nothing was left. People were being kidnapped by the regime, we had to leave."
Kefah was granted a visa to come to Australia first but her husband Mustafa and two of their children Mohamad and Riham ended up in Lebanon. In 2013, her husband and two children followed her to Sydney where she had settled in Merrylands, but their eldest daughter Samaher remained in a Tripoli refugee camp with her husband Ahmad and two children Jihad and Murad.
"I felt alone in Lebanon and nobody helped me. The kids stayed in my home," said Samaher. "The living conditions were terrible, we couldn't find work, we didn't have money. It was even more difficult being separated from the rest of my family in Australia."
Samaher said she feared for her family's safety when sectarian clashes took place in Tripoli in 2012. "I was scared for my kids and my husband," she said. "There were bombs going off and I was afraid for my kids."
Kefah also feared for her daughter's welfare.
"I felt very terrible. I was crying, very sad," she said. "It was terrible in Lebanon, there was fighting from time to time. They are fighting and shooting. So I was scared about her, her husband and kids."
In late 2014, Samaher's visa was approved and on New Year's Eve she and her family touched down in Sydney. Her husband Ahmad Hmouad said it was a dream come true. "We've been waiting for this day for three years," he said. "I'm so grateful to the Australian Government and the people here for allowing us to come."
Samaher said her children Jihad and Murad were excited to start their new life in Australia. "I'm full of happiness and joy that I'm with my family again," she said.
"My kids future is here and they're so happy."
Love & Light,