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Aliya reunited with her son...

24-08-2001 Feature

Afghanistan, August 1998

Aliya Bukhtiar has four children – three girls and a boy. In 1993, her husband was killed in the conflict that has racked Afghanistan for the last 20 years, leaving Aliya to bring up her family alone in Kabul. Fortunately, as a teacher she could meet their daily needs. This came to an end in 1996 when Aliya, like most working women, lost her job. Overnight, she found herself with no means to support her four children. Like many in Kabul, she had to rely on humanitarian aid for her family's survival. So she decided to move to her husband’s home town in Parwan province, in search of a quiet life and a little help from his family.

But war had other plans for Aliya and her children. One day armed men burst into her house and ordered her to leave town immediately. All she could do was grab a few clothes – the men wouldn’t let her wait for eight-year old Assadullah, who was playing in the bazaar with his friends.

So Aliya started the journey back to Kabul with her three daughters and other women from the town. When they reached the capital they were given accommodation in the former Russian embassy, along with other displaced persons. They did receive food, but after a few weeks Aliya decided to join a group of families headed for a refugee camp for Afghans at Peshawar in Pakistan, hoping to get help from the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

The camp was another disappointment – life was hard, especially for a mother alone with her children. So Aliya left the camp, moved into a small dwelling and took a job as a servant. But she still had no news of her son. Was he alive? Was he still in Afghanistan? Was he getting enough to eat? The winter was exceptionally harsh – would he survive? These were the questions that haunted her whenever the daily struggle for existence left her time to think.

In the year 2000, as winter came to an end, a letter from Aliya’s former neighbours in Kabul brought new hope. They had moved on from Peshawar to Kyrgyzstan, and thought they had seen Assadullah playing in front of a building in the capital, Bishkek. Aliya went to the tracing service of the ICRC’s sub-delegation in Peshawar and filled in a tracing request. Thanks to the tracing network of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, and in particular to the efforts of the Red Crescent Society of Kyrgyzstan, little Assadullah was found, and the tracing service in Peshawar gave Aliya a Red Cross message written by her son himself. This was the first sign of life from him in four years.

Aliya then asked the ICRC to reunite the family. Assadullah had moved in the meantime, and staff of the Kyrgyz National Society had to seek him out again. Luckily they found his new address, and once he had agreed to rejoin his mother and sisters the ICRC, working with the National Society and UNHCR, could start the formalities for his journey.

Today the Bukhtiar family are together again, and Assadullah can play with his sisters as before.

Aliya Bukhtiar and her four children have made a successful application for resettlement in another country and will soon be leaving, hopefully for a better future.