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Sierra Leone: Amara finds his mother

25-11-2005 Feature

The ICRC is continuing its efforts to restore contact between children and families separated by conflicts in West Africa. This is the story of one child whose search for his mother ended happily.

Amara was born in 1989 in Panguma, Sierra Leone, and lived happily with his mother and father until conflict broke out in 1992 and his village was attacked. In the ensuing chaos, he was separated from his parents and captured by the attackers.

  Tracing: a long and difficult process   Preserving the integrity of the family unit is a universal right guaranteed by international law. The ICRC does everything possible to re-establish links between members of families separated by conflict, especially children. So called “tracing” is one of its core activities and encompasses the active search and location of missing relatives, the subsequent exchange of news, and the eventual reunification of families whenever possible. Over 1.36 million Red Cross Messages were exchanged around the world in 2002, and 2,784 individuals – mostly children – reunited with their families as a result    

He was abandoned by his captor three years later. Luckily, a young woman called Kemah took Amara in and cared for him until the conflict ended in 2002. When security had been restored, the boy followed Kemah to her native village of Gbaima where he went to school and completed his primary education.

In April 2005, an ICRC tracing team registered Amara. In due course, it located his mother, Jenneh, living in Kambema village, south of Kenema district. After identifying one another through an exchange of messages and photos, they asked to be reunited.

In August 2005, Amara was brought to the Sierra Leone Red Cross Society Transit Centre in Kenema. Three days later, a ICRC team took him to Kambema where he met his mother after 12 years of separation. His happiness was overshadowed by the news that his father had died six years before, but it was a memorable day for the family and the community. Jenneh sang and danced at the sight of her son and both shed tears of joy. 

Working closely with National Red Cross Societies in West Africa, the ICRC's activities are helping to reunite people displaced by recent conflicts in the Mano River Union States and Ivory Coast. ICRC teams in these countries use a shared regional computer database to increase the chances of finding relatives across borders. This work also involves UNHCR, UNICEF and child protection agencies in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia and Ivory Coast. The tracing and reunification programme is fully financed by the ICRC and is part of a worldwide tracing network that brings contact information from as far away as Australia.

So far, in 2005, the ICRC has facilitated the exchange of some 5,000 Red Cross Messages in cooperation with the Sierra Leone Red Cross Society, and over 70 people have been reunited with their families. In all, since beginning its activities in the region, the ICRC has helped reunite 2,376 children with their families in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea and Ivory Coast. Over 1,000 are still waiting.

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