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Libya / Syria: Mother and son restore contact

09-12-2013 Feature

Siham comes from Syria. More than a year ago, her grandson Fahd went missing and never came back. All that she and her family know is that he was killed. "Nothing else," she says. The pain is devastating.

The exodus

Afraid that the same thing might happened to her youngest son, 77-year-old Siham decided that both of them should escape to Libya. Her older son Nidal stayed behind to look after the rest of the family while Marwan took his mother across the border into Lebanon and then to Egypt, on their way to Libya. When they got to the Egyptian/Libyan border Siham was allowed through, but not her son.

A Libyan businessman was on his way back from a business trip to Egypt. "Some people told me about this old lady who was all alone at the customs building, not knowing where to go," explained Al-Tuhami Shilta. "The only thing I could do was to offer her shelter in my house in Misrata for as long as she needed," he explained. "She could have been my mother."

Siham settled in Misrata with Al-Tuhami's family. But months passed without any news of her son. "He has been taking good care of me," she said. But she missed her sons: "Every night, I cried and prayed to God to reunite me with Marwan."

In Misrata, Al-Tuhami looked for possible relatives or acquaintances of Siham. "I tried my best. No one knew her."

Hope at last

A year passed. Her other son managed to contact her from Egypt, where he was living with the rest of the family. But the changing situation in Egypt meant they were unable to join her in Libya and Siham still had no news from Marwan. Unable to enter Libya, he had continued his journey, eventually ending up in Sweden.

Marwan knew the name of the person taking care of his mother in Misrata, even though he had never met him. Somebody advised Marwan to approach the Swedish Red Cross. They asked him to write a Red Cross message to his mother and a "tracing request" was officially opened. The search then started through the vast network of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement.

For ICRC delegates who visited prisons in Misrata, the name Shilta seemed familiar; it was also the name of a person they had met in the course of their work. A simple telephone call confirmed that Al-Tuhami Shilta was the nephew of the person they had met, and that he was looking after Siham.

The ICRC and the Libyan Red Crescent got in touch with Siham and arranged a phone call between her and Marwan. In early October, the ICRC team visited her at Al-Tuhami’s house. Siham finally spoke to Marwan by phone, tears of joy running down her cheeks. "When will I see you?" she asked.

When the call ended, Siham asked for the Red Cross Message her son had sent. She kissed the letter, and held it close to her heart. A gleam of hope shone in her eyes. Finally, she was a step closer to her son. "Insha'Allah, soon we will be together again. The worst might be over for us."


Photos

Al-Tuhami has been hosting Siham for almost a year.  

Misrata, Libya.
Al-Tuhami has been hosting Siham for almost a year. "She's welcome to stay in my home until she's ready to join her son," he told us.
© ICRC

Siham became separated from her son near the Libyan-Egyptian border in autumn 2012. He ended up in Sweden, and they lost contact when he lost his phone. Now she has finally been able to speak to him again. 

Misrata, Libya.
Siham became separated from her son near the Libyan-Egyptian border in autumn 2012. He ended up in Sweden, and they lost contact when he lost his phone. Now she has finally been able to speak to him again.
© ICRC