A 2-year-old Syrian boy, believed dead after his family inadvertently left him behind as they fled shelling last summer, has been restored to them in Cyprus.
“You can imagine how they felt when they were told their son was alive, after bearing all this guilt thinking he was dead,” said lawyer Stella Constantinou.
The story of Bushr Al Tawashi evokes every parent’s nightmare. No one knows just how long he wandered alone in the rubble of his family home in the Al Kaboun suburb of Damascus before another fleeing family found him and handed him to rebel fighters.
The boy was placed in a camp where, even amid all the chaos and confusion, he was recognised by friends of his parents.
In their haste to escape fighting between government troops and Syrian rebels, Bushr’s father, Machhour Al Tawashi, and his mother, Arin Al Dakkar, had assumed their son had ben picked up by other members of their extended family, said Constantinou. But heavy fighting prevented them from going back to search for Bushr once they realised he was missing.
Believing he did not survive the shelling, his parents and their two other sons, aged 4 and 6, arrived in Cyprus on Aug 6 in search of asylum, two weeks after they lost trace of Bushr.
“They thought the baby was dead. How was he going to survive the ruins?” said Constantinou.
But word that the boy was safe eventually reached his parents, who now live in the coastal town of Limassol. They sought Constantinou’s help to bring him to the Mediterranean island, 100km east of Syria.
Constantinou said the sister of one of her clients volunteered to go back to Damascus on Sep 9 to take care of Bushr until arrangements for his return could be made. However, That woman is now being prevented from leaving the Syrian capital, said Constantinou, without elaborating.
The lawyer said the Cypriot foreign ministry expedited the process once Bushr’s parents provided proof he was their child.
Bushr’s father then travelled to the Lebanese capital, Beirut, where he was reunited with the boy at the Cypriot embassy. He brought Bushr back to the island yesterday.
“All the parents keep saying is ‘Thank you! Thank you!” ’ Constantinou said.
“As a grandmother of a 2-year-old, there’s nothing I wouldn’t do to get that boy back to his parents.”
She added that the parents, who do not speak English, have been taken aback by all the media attention they have faced.
Activists say some 35,000 people have been killed in Syria since an uprising against president Bashir al-Assad’s government began in Mar 2011.
“I didn’t believe they would bring [my] baby here. But they did,” said Al Tawashi, as Al Dakkar tried to contain her tears in front of the cameras at the airport and at their Limassol home.
“She can’t say what she has inside of her but she wants to thank the Cyprus Republic and Ms Stella [Constantinou], who helped and brought the baby to Cyprus,” said an interpreter.
Sigma TV showed the reunited siblings playing with a balloon, and mother and father kissing their sons, but Constantinou said the family was a “little apprehensive” of the media.
“After all, they have lived through dramatic times and there is still a war in their country,” she said. But, after so many months, they are finally together again.
Their story was a glimmer of light in the context of a much bigger and gloomier picture of Syria. Fighting in Syria killed several people yesterday as a ceasefire brokered by international peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, to mark Eid al-Adha, the climax of the Haj pilgrimage to Mecca, frayed almost before it had begun.
The Syrian military had said it would hold fire for four days following Brahimi’s ceasefire appeal, which had won widespread support, including from Russia, China, and Iran, Assad’s main foreign allies.
The UN-Arab League envoy had hoped to calm a 19-month-old conflict that has worsened instability in the Middle East.
Violence seemed to wane in some areas, but violations marred Syrians’ hopes of celebrating Eid al-Adha.