Nigeria: After six years, three siblings find their way home

Nigeria: After six years, three siblings find their way home

Despite a long journey and ongoing armed conflict, Kaltum and her siblings were able to stick together and work alongside Nigerian Red Cross volunteers to find their way back to the family they’d been separated from.
Article 20 February 2024 Nigeria

Kaltum Suleiman is 16, has been displaced by conflict twice and wants to become a doctor.

"Or any job that serves people," she says. "I want to help other people."

Together with her younger brother and sister, Kaltum has just been reunified with relatives in Maiduguri, northeast Nigeria – after years of separation due to conflict.

"Armed fighters entered our village and there was shooting everywhere," she recalls. "Everyone was leaving town and we were running, then we were separated with my family – until now."

Kaltum Suleiman after reunified with relatives in Maiduguri.

At first, Kaltum and her siblings were displaced along with their mother. They fled across the border into Chad. There, a second attack separated the siblings from their mother. Kaltum has been caring for them ever since.

Despite all the challenges of a long and dangerous journey, Kaltum kept the three siblings together and helped them make their way to Monguno, a city in northeast Nigeria, where they met Nigerian Red Cross volunteers.

"We were taken to a phone call service desk and someone told us that there is a place that helps reunite separated families, so I reported our case," Kaltum says.

"I was happy I was linked to them, as today I am happy to be reunited with my family."

The siblings just after arriving in Maiduguri

It has been six years since Kaltum and her siblings last saw their relatives in Maiduguri. Their mother is still missing. But there to greet them at the reunion was their older brother Hassan.

"It is like a dream," Hassan says. "I thought I would never see them again in this life... I cannot describe how happy I am for this reunion, because there is no one like a sibling."

Hassan Suleiman

Lilian Dube is part of the ICRC team in northeast Nigeria that helped find Kaltum's family in Maiduguri, using key details that the siblings had been able to remember.

"We got the details of the family and our colleagues here in Maiduguri kept looking for the family and found them," she says.

In 2023, the ICRC helped facilitate 13 reunions like this one.

"This may seem like a small number," Lilian says. "But it is a very long process and takes a long time and a lot of effort. It is not easy because families are still moving now."

Lilian Dube on the far right, with ICRC colleagues just after the reunion in Maiduguri

The work that Lilian and her team do in northeast Nigeria, alongside Nigerian Red Cross volunteers, is work that we do for people in places experiencing conflict around the world.

Everyone deserves to know the fate of a missing loved one. As Kaltum says, "I am happy and wish other children separated from their family can be reunited with them."