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Lebanon: a mother waits for news from Yemen

05-02-2010 Feature

Last July, a Red Cross message finally put Hajje Mariam back in touch with the daughter she last saw in 1982. Weeks later, all contact ceased, a bitter blow for this Palestinian refugee. Khadija left Lebanon 28 years ago at the height of the 1982 war with Israel. Now another war, this time in northern Yemen, has dashed Hajje Mariam’s hopes of seeing her again.

 

  ©ICRC/S. El Kadi    
 
  Hajje Mariam, holding an old portrait of her missing daughter, dictates a Red Cross message to an ICRC delegate at her home near a Palestinian refugee camp in south Beirut.    
   

Sitting in the entrance of her two-room house on the outskirts of a Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon, Hajje Mariam dictates a new Red Cross message to an ICRC delegate, hoping desperately that her daughter will receive it. “All I want is to know that my daughter is alive and to see her again, if only once, " she tells us.

" We’ve had no news from her since August and I’m worried that something might have happened to her because of the war in Saada. " Hajje Mariam wipes a tear from her wrinkled face as she recalls the short-lived joy of getting back in touch with Khadija. When an ICRC delegate delivered a Red Cross message (RCM) from her daughter in July 2009 she jumped for joy. " It was a miracle. I could hardly believe she was alive. "

After re-establishing contact through an exchange of RCMs, Khadija phoned her relatives in Lebanon for the first time since 1997. " She called us in August, just a few weeks after we responded to her Red Cross message. She said she was calling from the ICRC office and that she was living in a refugee camp in the north of Yemen. There’s not been a single word since then. "

 
  ©ICRC/S. El Kadi    
 
  All that Hajje Mariam wants is to see her daughter walk back through this door.    
   

Fighting resumed in northern Yemen last August, which might h ave forced Khadija to move. " I can’t understand why she hasn’t contacted us since August. I just hope nothing has happened to her. Maybe she had to get out in a hurry … I don’t know. I’m worried to death. "

Khadija was 15 when she left her parents’ home near the Palestinian refugee camp of Borj Barajneh, south of Beirut. She was evacuated to Yemen with her husband, a Palestinian combatant, along with other Palestine Liberation Organization fighters deported from Lebanon during the 1982 war. " I cried as if my soul was leaving my body when she walked out of that door. It was the last time I saw her. "

She recalls that for the first 10 years after she left, Khadija exchanged news regularly with her family in Lebanon. " Then suddenly it was a total blackout, as if she’d completely disappeared. "

Hajje Mariam tells how she travelled to Yemen in 1997 to search for her daughter. But Khadija had moved: " I spent 25 days looking for her. I knocked on every door and contacted anyone who might know anything about her, especially Lebanese and Palestinians living in Sanaa, but without success. " She abandoned her search after falling ill and returned to Lebanon empty-handed.

The mother of ten children, Hajje Mariam lost two sons to the wars that have plagued Lebanon for so many decades. Knowing what has happened to her daughter would mean the world to her. " I so want to see her before I die,” the 76-year-old tells us, “I’m very ill, and seeing her would be a balm for my old age. "

The ICRC immediately forwarded the RCM to its delegation in Yemen, where staff will do all they can to deliver it as quickly as possible.