In the morning of Thursday October 3, Caritas International Luxembourg contacts the IOM Country Office in Brussels on behalf of a family desperately looking forward to reuniting with their 11-month-old child left in Iraq. Although the child has a valid passport and visa there remains one complication – organizing his trip to Luxembourg. Indeed, on the one hand being less than 2-years-old, the child is considered too young and thus not eligible for the unaccompanied minors assistance provided by the airline. On the other hand, his parents are still waiting for a decision on their application for international protection and are not allowed to leave the country. The family reunification visa of the child expires on October 20, which means that IOM had exactly 12 days to organize his trip. The countdown has started! 

IOM Brussels immediately informs their colleagues in Iraq and provides them with the information they need. From that moment, IOM Iraq will be the principal go-between with the child’s uncle and aunt who are taking care of him in Iraq, whilst IOM Brussels will be the main contact point for the social assistant of Caritas who is in contact with the parents.

The first hurdle is finding an escort willing to travel as soon as possible from Belgium or from Iraq, taking into account the visa requirements. Furthermore, given the child’s age, the escort must be a woman according to IOM’s regulation.  One of the staff members in Brussels accepted the challenge. There is now no time to waste. The IOM team immediately contacts the Iraqi Embassy and gets an appointment for the next day to request a visa. 

Sunday October 6:
From their part, IOM Iraq meets the aunt and the child for the first time and make sure everything complies with the administrative procedures. A legalized parental authorization delivered by the Iraqi Embassy in the presence of both parents is required by the Iraqi authorities. This is the first obstacle since the parents cannot go to Belgium.

Monday October 7:
IOM Brussels and Caritas Luxembourg try to find a solution, they contact the embassy and the Luxembourgish authorities. We also have to consider who is going to welcome the child upon his arrival in Brussels, since the parents will not be allowed to do so.

Wednesday 9 October:
Two days later, no solution has been found despite all the efforts. IOM Iraq proposes to organize the trip from Erbil instead of Baghdad. In the north of the country, the authorities require a legalized parental authorization issued by the Luxembourgish authorities, rather than from the embassy.
Even though Erbil is further away from the child’s hometown than Baghdad, we opt for this solution and we explain the reason of this choice to the aunt and the parents. There are 5 days left. With the help of the social assistant, the parents draft the parental authorization and get it translated and legalized. It’s their eldest son, who has just turned 18 and who has got a valid residence permit who is going to Brussels to take his brother back to Luxembourg upon arrival. 

Thursday October 10:
Little by little, the pieces are falling into place. It is high time to book the flights. The departure of the child is scheduled on the evening of the 14th of October.
The last preparations are made in collaboration by both missions: booking the hotel, assistance at departure, in transit and upon arrival. As an Iraqi citizen travelling without his parents, the little child must obtain an agreement from the Residency Office. The document has been issued and everything is now in order.

Friday October 11: The escort travels to Iraq.   

Saturday October 12: The child arrives to Erbil.

Monday October 14:
A first meeting is organized between the child and the escort within the office of IOM so that the baby can feel at ease and safe with her. The baby’s aunt takes a moment to explain to him that the young lady is his aunt and that she will take him back home. Afterwards, the escort and the child go together to the playground. A few hours later, in the airport of Erbil, the two ladies change together the baby’s diaper. The aunt gives the escort an inventory of her nephew’s items (clothes that she bought especially for the occasion, toys, diapers, etc.). It is almost time to say goodbye, however IOM Iraq made a special request to the airport so that the baby’s aunt can accompany him until he gets to the gates.

Tuesday October 15:
Whilst he was crying during the whole first flight, he becomes more calm and confident once arrived in transit in Doha.  He starts playing and showing his tricks to the families present in the family room. Once in the second airplane and after a long day he falls asleep and remain asleep the whole flight. While watching him sleeping, a flight attendant comments: ‘It’s amazing, he is so innocent, and he doesn’t realize he is on his way for his new life.’

A few hours later, the little 11-month-old baby meets his big brother for the first time. This is such a moving moment for the young boy who had never seen his baby brother before. The escort’s mission is now over and it’s with a heavy heart that she says goodbye to the little baby. Safely arrived in Brussels, it is now the last step of his long journey. Accompanied by his brother and the social assistant, he can now head to Luxembourg to finally reunite with his parents.

A few days after his arrival, the parents go to the office of Caritas Luxembourg to introduce him to the team. He is quite serene. The parents are very grateful and wish to express the happiness of the whole family who all had been looking forward to seeing the little baby.

SDG 10 - Reduced Inequalities