KOKKINOTRIMITHIA, Cyprus (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 meter-high barrier encircling a migrant reception center at Kokkinotrimithia, west of the Cypriot capital Nicosia.
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.
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.
Hammasho had taken a similar route one year ago, landing in Cyprus on Sept. 6, 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.
“Im 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.
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.”
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.”
The table is strewn with his identification papers and the classified sections of newspapers, pinned down by an untouched pot of Arabic coffee.
His bedsit is small. 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.”
Additional reporting by Michele Kambas; Editing by Gareth Jones