Cameroon/CAR: A mother and daughter reunited after an agonizing year of separation

19 February 2015
Cameroon/CAR: A mother and daughter reunited after an agonizing year of separation
Pilera and her mother, both visibly moved, savour the joy of finding one another again. CC BY-NC-ND/ICRC/Rosine Solange Samou Kam

After a year-long separation, Pilera, a seventeen-year-old girl from the Central African Republic, has been able to find her mother in Cameroon, thanks to the efforts of the ICRC and the Cameroon Red Cross Society. Sadly, there is nothing exceptional about Pilera's plight. Many families have been scattered as a result of the fighting in the Central African Republic and quite a number of children find themselves alone and far from home.

Pilera was on holiday at her maternal aunt's home when Bangui was attacked on 5 December 2013. They both fled. After a long tramp through the forest they reached the department of Likouala, in the neighbouring country, the Republic of the Congo, where they were given shelter in the Betou refugee camp, which is run by the Congolese Red Cross with the support of the ICRC. There they contacted Red Cross volunteers who began efforts to find Pilera's mother.

Circumstances permitting, teams of National Red Cross Societies and the ICRC do all they can to restore and maintain contact between members of families who have been separated owing to an armed conflict and, if possible, to reunite children with their relatives.

In eastern Cameroon, efforts are being made to restore contact between family members of Central Africans in the Lolo, Mbilé, Timangolo and Gado refugee camps. The ICRC has trained a number of volunteers from the Cameroon Red Cross Society in counseling people who have no news of their relatives, in registering and processing requests to trace members of families who have been scattered and in monitoring cases of unaccompanied children.

The ICRC and volunteers working in the four facilities in eastern Cameroon very quickly managed to trace Pilera's mother, who was in the Gado refugee camp, at Garoua-Boulai. Mother and daughter were able to establish contact and exchange news through Red Cross messages and photos. This helped to calm the grief and anguish which had built up over twelve months' separation.

As soon she received permission from the Congolese and Cameroonian authorities and UNHCR, a thrilled and very impatient Pilera set off to join her mother. The ICRC accompanied her throughout the journey.

Pilera reached Bertoua in Cameroon on 22 December 2014. All she could think about was finding her mother and snuggling up to her. She didn't even want any breakfast. In Gado, her mother, who had been informed the day before that her daughter was on her way, went to the Restoring Family Links (RFL) office of the Cameroon Red Cross Society at 7 a.m. When she saw no sign of her daughter, she began to despair, although volunteers from the Cameroon Red Cross Society did their best to reassure her.

When at long last the ICRC team arrived at Gado, Pilera was overcome with emotion. At first her mother refused to come out and meet her. It took thirty minutes before the Red Cross volunteers could convince her that her daughter was really there. There are simply no words to describe their joy on being reunited. Mother and daughter cried with happiness.

Gado camp for Central African Republic refugees. After an entire year of separation, Pilera can finally hold her mother in her arms. CC BY-NC-ND/ICRC/Rosine Solange Samou Kam

In 2014, in the aftermath of the conflict in the Central African Republic, Red Cross volunteers in the Congo and Cameroon collected almost 2,000 tracing requests and registered 128 unaccompanied minors. Some 800 tracing requests were successful and 24 unaccompanied children were reunited with their family thanks to the regional RFL network of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. The Movement's RFL network is the largest humanitarian network in the world.

Pilera's mother signs the final forms before heading home with her daughter. CC BY-NC-ND/ICRC/Rosine Solange Samou Kam


For further information, please contact:
Emmanuel Kagimbura, ICRC Yaoundé, tel: +237 698 813 054 / 222 206 382 / 699 215 937