Ethiopian journalist Addisalem Hadigu has met his daughters Asmera and Danait in Eritrea for the first time in 16 years.

He was among many families kept apart by decades of war and conflict between neighbours Ethiopia and Eritrea.

They were reunited in scenes of tearful joy and relief after the first commercial flight between the two nations in 20 years landed in Eritrea’s capital, Asmara.

“My suffering has ended – I have met my daughters and kissed them, and poured my tears,” Addisalem told local media.

His reunion with his daughters, who are not twins as reported earlier, filled him with “so much peace and hope”, he added.

The 58-year-old had told BBC Tigrinya last week that he had become separated from his Eritrean wife in 2002 when she crossed the border into Eritrea with their children.

All three were overcome with emotion when they met at the airport

“I was like a dead man walking. My life was without meaning, without taste. The border was closed to Ethiopians, so I could not go after her. I felt like I had died,” Addisalem said.

“I used to wish my family had moved to any other country – because it would have been easier to visit them there than to cross the border into Eritrea.”

Addisalem Hadigu with his youngest daughter
Addisalem Hadigu photographed with one of his daughters before the family was separated

Ethiopian Airlines called the flight to Eritrea – the first since the 1998-2000 border war – the “bird of peace”.

Air and road travel is now opening up between the two nations, after their leaders this month declared the “state of war” over and agreed to restore diplomatic ties.

Photos of families and loved ones reuniting after years of being apart are being shared widely on social media – including by many in the diaspora.

Passengers on the historic 60-minute flight sang and danced in the aisles and flight attendants handed out roses and served champagne.

Passengers pose for a selfie picture inside an Ethiopian Airlines flight who departed from the Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to Eritrea"s capital Asmara on July 18, 2018
Passengers described the journey as “history in the making”
A passenger displays an Ethiopian passport and an Ethiopian Airlines boarding pass as he sits inside ET314 flight to Eritrea"s capital Asmara at the Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia July 18, 2018.
This traveller proudly displayed his passport and much-coveted ticket

More than 450 passengers were on board the aircraft, Ethiopia’s privately owned Addis Standard news site reported.

Demand was so high that a second flight left within 15 minutes, according to AFP news agency.

Eritreans wait to welcome their families at Asmara International Airport aboard the Ethiopian Airlines ET314 flight in Asmara, Eritrea July 18, 2018.

Anxious friends and relatives waited to see their loved ones appear from the plane.


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