SBS World News Radio: Magical reunion of Afghan family split up as they fled
Within the mass migration and humanitarian crisis in Europe, occasionally arises a story to give the displaced some hope.
An almost inconceivable family reunion in Sweden has brought together an Afghan boy, his parents and sisters after a chance sighting at a concert.
Last year, more than a million migrants reached Europe by sea, and a further 34,000 crossed from Turkey to Bulgaria and Greece by land.
Among those displaced was 14-year-old Mahdi Azizi.
Mahdi Azizi was fleeing Iran with his family last summer, en route to Europe, when he became separated at night in a Turkish forest as they headed for a people smuggler's boat.
"The smugglers were forcing us to get onto the boats. I tried to explain that my family were still there, that I couldn't continue without them. But the smugglers wouldn't listen, and I didn't understand their language."
The youth was split up from the rest of his family during the rush to board a truck heading for the border.
His father, Nader Azizi, was carrying his younger daughter, a toddler at the time, and thought his son was following behind.
"It was night and dark and very crowded. Once we were inside the truck, I yelled, 'Mahdi!' But I didn't hear him reply, so I called him again, 'Mahdi!'"
Mahdi Azizi's parents had originally fled Afghanistan because of a family feud.
While living in Iran, they were pursued and threatened for more than a decade.
Fleeing again, they found themselves among the waves of Syrian refugees.
The family paid smugglers more than $50,000 to be among the hundreds of thousands seeking asylum.
More than 160,000 people pursued shelter in Sweden last year, and Mahdi Azizi was one of 35,000 unaccompanied minors placed in foster care in the country.
He says, in his first days in Sweden, he was really confused and cried himself to sleep, thinking of his mother.
Carina and Pertti Arnberg opened up their house to refugees and took him in, along with two other boys.
"When I arrived in Sweden, I went straightaway into an immigration centre, and they immediately sent me to Pertti's family. Those first days, Pertti might still remember, I was really confused. There was a lot of pressure on me. At night, I couldn't sleep. I was crying myself to sleep, thinking of my mother and crying. I used to cry a lot, thinking about my youngest sister Ghazal."
But no-one could have guessed his foster parents lived about 150 kilometres from the asylum centre where the rest of his family was being housed.
After months of searching and wondering where his son was, Nader Azizi was perched in a crowd at a concert.
What happened next was pure luck.
Carina Arnberg describes the moment father and son were reunited.
"Mahdi and I turned around to look at the tree, and they're two metres behind us. Madhi said, "(gasp,) It's my dad!" And his dad answered, "(gasp,) Mahdi!" They were so happy and very, very big smiles."
Nader Azizi says he could not believe his eyes.
"I told myself it was a dream, Mahdi cannot be here. Then I looked again, thinking this is actually Mahdi. Again, I stopped myself from believing it. So I went a bit closer and looked and realised it was actually Mahdi, I wasn't dreaming. I called his name, he looked back and yelled, 'Dad!' I cannot describe it. It was an amazing moment. I still cannot believe it."
Mahdi Azizi's mother, Raheleh, was told her son would soon be at the door nursing his sister.
"I was a bit tense. When he came and knocked, I opened the door and saw it was Mahdi, holding Ghazal in his arms. We embraced, and I cried. I couldn't believe it."
But the family reunion is not complete -- it is pending appeal.
Under Swedish law, the parents' and sisters' asylum applications were rejected on the grounds they could now live safely in Afghanistan.
Nader Azizi says he is not sure when they will be able to see his son again.
"We are waiting for a response from the immigration centre. It might take a month or two, I really don't know what's going to happen."
The family is making an appeal, but, if it fails, it could mean yet another move before everybody can reunite for the long term.