It Takes a Village — Reuniting a Turkish family in Switzerland
On a sunny day in July this year, a middle-aged man named Eylo waited anxiously at the arrivals area of Zurich international airport — the final destination point of a journey spanning 27 years.
On the other side of the opaque arrivals doorway, his wife Sima and their daughters were sitting in a small room with an IOM official and Swiss authorities for a debriefing, having traveled from Erbil, Iraq.
As the minutes stretched to an hour, the doors finally opened. Sima and their daughters, ranging in age between 11 and 19, stepped through and walked into Eylo’s arms after three and a half years of separation.
On hand to assist at the airport was Mónica González Batista, Movement Operations Coordinator with IOM Switzerland. “I was fortunate to personally support their arrival at the airport. But no matter how prepared I was, I couldn’t anticipate the flood of emotions the family felt in one single instant as they embraced each other — relief, sadness, happiness, exhaustion, hope.”
Eylo and Sima’s story begins in 1995 when their lives were turned upside down by conflict that forced them to leave their home in Turkey.
For the first few years, the couple moved from one refugee camp to another until they arrived in Iraq. Sima would live in a refugee camp for nearly 25 years, giving birth to their daughters there. Within the confines of the camp, their childhood was coloured with the constant fear of air raids and bombings.
Eylo eventually had no choice but to leave the camp in search of a new home for his family and a way to provide for them. For the better part of a decade, he criss-crossed borders in the area, eventually suffering a gunshot wound. Eylo arrived in Switzerland in 2019 after asylum was granted and then applied for family reunification in 2021.
The journey that began 27 years ago would encounter delays even after the Swiss State Secretariat for Migration issued an entry authorization for Eylo’s family last summer.
Under the auspices of the Swiss Family Reunification and Humanitarian Visa Program, IOM’s Switzerland office swung into action to coordinate the numerous logistics with IOM in Erbil and the Swiss Embassy in Amman, Jordan.
First up was the need to procure the necessary identification papers for the Swiss government to process a laissez-passer (a legal travel document issued in lieu of a passport) for each of them. IOM Switzerland called upon their colleagues in Erbil who provided on-site support in Iraq with a series of visits to the camp to verify the identities, names, dates of birth of each family member, and take photographs for each laissez-passer. The IOM team in Erbil also helped the family obtain their Iraqi exit permits and scheduled the mandatory security interview for the family with Iraqi authorities.
“Knowing what kind of hardship the family went through, drove us to really push ourselves beyond our limits and do everything in our power to give them the support they needed,” said Mohammed Ali, Senior Operations Assistant, IOM Erbil.
Every step of the family’s journey to join Eylo was carefully organized from Erbil to Doha and then Zurich. Sima and her daughters were informed of their travel plans and on the big day itself, IOM teams in Erbil and Doha were on hand at each airport for departure and connection transfers.
When they finally arrived in Zurich, little did Eylo and his family know that theirs was one of the first reunifications that the Swiss team had managed. The complexity of arranging the reunion across different countries and levels of government was daunting, but the importance of family reunification was manifested in the sheer joy expressed that day at Zurich airport.
“We were all relieved when the plane finally departed from Erbil. But the most remarkable moment, that brought us all tears of joy, was when we received a photo of the family’s reunion in Switzerland. We’re glad this happy ending led to a new beginning for the family,” added Ali.
Thanks to its global presence with offices in more than 100 countries, IOM assists migrants in the process of family reunification. Since July 2021, IOM Switzerland has been managing the Swiss Family Reunification project (previously managed by IOM HQ) and has been supporting beneficiaries who have been granted family reunification or humanitarian visas on a case-by-case basis. This includes the comprehensive logistical support to family members at every stage of the process as they travel from the country of origin/country of residence to Switzerland.
For queries related to family reunification in Switzerland, please contact us at: FRCH@iom.int.
*Names of the beneficiaries have been changed to protect their identities.