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Loved ones from around the world are finally reuniting with U.S. restrictions lifted

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Airports across the country are full of tearful reunions and long-awaited embraces this week. After nearly two years, the U.S. has lifted pandemic travel restrictions on more than 30 countries. NPR's Michelle Aslam saw some of the reunions at Dulles International Airport in Washington, D.C.

COMPUTER-GENERATED VOICE #1: Report any problems to the airport police or to the information counter at Travelers Aid.

MICHELLE ASLAM, BYLINE: The International Arrivals Hall at Dulles is filled with people carrying bouquets and balloons. An eager crowd is waiting for loved ones from France, India and Italy to walk through the through the exit doors any second. Bethany Rasheed and her sister-in-law Fouzia are here to welcome their kids' aunt, Fiza Omer, to the U.S. for the first time.

BETHANY RASHEED: All her sisters here, my mother-in-law, my husband and six of our kids.

FOUZIA: It has been really hard because last year, her approval came for the visa and then the lockdown happened. And then there was nothing for almost a year. And then she got her interview, and now she got the passport, and now she's coming.

ASLAM: Omer is arriving from Pakistan. Travel restrictions from that country have been eased for a while, but the pandemic still caused delays. One of the kids, Anaya, came prepared with a handmade drawing of hearts and rainbows.

ANAYA: We got flowers and balloons for her. So we're going to give her those.

ASLAM: Her cousin, Zamin, made his own poster.

ZAMIN: It's saying first time going to Virginia.

ASLAM: And then Aunt Fiza walks through the doors.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Ready. Say welcome Fiza hallah (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: Welcome Fiza hallah.

FIZA OMER: Yeah, she's my sister-in-law. I have been waiting for a long, long time to see her, to meet everybody in the family. It was a long wait. I'm so excited. I'm so happy. Alhamdulillah.

COMPUTER-GENERATED VOICE #2: Please practice social distancing.

ASLAM: Nearby, 74-year-old Boone La, who's Vietnamese, found a seat in clear view of the exit doors. He's picking up his adoptive brother-in-law.

BOONE LA: I'm waiting for a family member from Paris. You know, today is the first day that America allowed European to come. So it's a crazy day, a busy day.

ASLAM: It's a day of celebration, but for La's family, in some ways, it's too late.

LA: The reason he's coming today is to see his adoptive father, but he passed away 10 days ago.

ASLAM: La says his brother-in-law almost made it in time. It was hard for him to miss the funeral.

LA: He wrote a beautiful letter for us to read at the funeral. A sad thing, but we want to celebrate the father's life. He was 98. He had a wonderful life.

ASLAM: La's been waiting for almost two hours. I ask him what he's most looking forward to.

LA: Hugging, hugging. It's all from the heart.

ASLAM: Michelle Aslam, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.