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Rwanda: Five years of separation come to an end

10-06-1999 News Release 99/23

The grandmother could do nothing but throw her arms in the air, as if her emotions had left her speechless. After five years of separation, she had just been reunited with her two grandchildren: Vincent, 12, and Furaha, 13. The children had fled their village in the town of Kanombe, near Kigali, in 1994. By escaping with other adult members of the family to what was, at that time, still Zaire they were able to save their lives, unlike their parents.

The arrival of the two ICRC vehicles caused a crowd to gather. It was quite an event in this remote corner of Kigali Rural and cries of laughter rang out all around. Furaha almost danced for joy as, with a huge smile on her face, she embraced the members of her family. As for Vincent, he was more reserved. He simply shook hands, keeping his eyes fixed on the floor. 

For months, the two children had been staying at a centre in Goma, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Like many other youngsters, they had been waiting for the day to come which would bring an end to five years of separation from their family and would allow them to return to their place of birth. Five years of turmoil which had swept the region and seen them lose all contact with their family in exile. Finally, on 3 June, they were transferred from Goma to Kigali by ICRC aircraft.

" The grandmother is overcome with emotion, she doesn't know how to thank us " , whispered Ibrahim, a Rwandan working for the ICRC Tracing Agency at the Kigali East sub-delegation. After obtaining signatures on a few official documents, the ICRC delega tes departed, leaving Vincent, Furaha and the group to their emotional reunion. Other children were waiting in the cars to be taken back to their families. These families, more often than not, consisted of uncles, aunts, brothers and sisters, the parents having been the victims of genocide.

Reuniting unaccompanied children with their families is one of the ICRC's main activities in Rwanda. More than 110 Rwandan employees are working full time on the project. There are currently some 6,300 children in Rwanda and close to 1,000 more outside the country hoping to rejoin their relatives. Since 1994, around 63,000 children have already been reunited with their next of kin, more than 15,000 of these by the ICRC.