South Sudan / Sudan: Five-year-old Leila reunited with her family

22 October 2015
South Sudan / Sudan: Five-year-old Leila reunited with her family
After having been separated from her family due to conflict and ending up in South Sudan, five-year-old Leila is reunited with her parents in Sudan. CC BY-NC-ND/ICRC/Asia Kambal

When fighting broke out in her village in Blue Nile State, Sudan, Leila was on foot to her grandmother's house. Much to the dismay of her family, she didn't come home, so her father eventually turned to the ICRC for help.

The day had started like any other June morning. The family was having tea together and for five-year-old Leila* this meant either biscuits or fresh bread with her tea. This morning it was biscuits.

A short while later she started the one-kilometre walk to see her grandmother, who lives next door to a shop. Leila always visited her grandmother first before buying biscuits and then heading back home.

All the children who got lost during the fighting that day were found within a relatively short time, except for Leila. Mustafa* and Magda*, Leila's father and mother, were hysterical.

"I searched inside ditches, I searched the entire forest. I looked for her in 14 villages," said Mustafa. "I walked from place to place asking if anyone had seen my Leila. I even searched burning debris, thinking she might be underneath."

"After days of searching, my head was spinning and I didn't know where else to go," he continued. "People referred me to the National Council for Child Welfare and I informed them that my daughter was missing." The Council told Mustafa that the ICRC seeks to reunify families that are separated across borders and would be able to help him.

The call from ICRC comes at last

Working closely together, the ICRC delegations in Sudan and South Sudan eventually found Leila in a refugee camp close to the border in South Sudan.

Leila with the ICRC delegate that picked her up from the refugee camp in South Sudan. The woman carrying Leila was taking care of her in the camp. CC BY-NC-ND/ICRC/Luiza Khazhgerieva

"Finally, I got the call from the ICRC," said a relieved Mustafa. "They said they had found my daughter and sent me some pictures of her. Only then was I able to eat again, and my heart rested a bit."

The ICRC delegations followed up with the authorities in both countries to expedite Leila's travel and reunification with her family. Before long, an ICRC field officer in Juba accompanied Leila to join her parents in Khartoum, Sudan.

Locating people separated from their loved ones during times of conflict, and reconnecting them with their families is an essential humanitarian service provided by the ICRC. Working as part of a wider network of tracing services, ICRC delegations and Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in the region help to bring families separated across borders back together.

Leila leaves the care centre of the South Sudanese NGO, Confident Children out of Conflict, to be reunited with her family in Sudan.

"I did not expect at all to find my daughter," says Magda, Leila's mother. "The entire time she was missing, I didn't eat or drink and I wept all the time. I thought that I might never see her again."

"We were a total mess," said Mustafa, "I went out every day in search of her. I didn't even remember to eat."

"Our youngest child, two-year-old Mona*, had been crying a lot," says Magda. "When we asked her what she wanted – candy, cookies or her grandparents – she kept saying no. All she wanted was to see Leila."

At the end of each day of searching for Leila, Mustafa would go back home and Magda would ask 'where is my daughter?'. "I couldn't stand being at home," he said. "As soon as I'd see my wife, tears would start rolling down my face.

"Mustafa recalls: "One day, I went to a religious man in hopes of a good omen. He told me 'your daughter is alive and is in good health. She is being taken care of by an elderly person and she is playing with other children'. That gave me so much peace."

Magda said: "When Mustafa told me about the good omen, I didn't believe it."

On the day that Leila was due to return home, the entire family wanted to go to Khartoum to welcome her back, but they did not have a car big enough to transport everyone. "Instead they all waited for her in our village," said a happy Mustafa.

The happy family with representatives of the Sudanese National Council for Child Welfare and the Sudanese Red Crescent, and the ICRC teams from Sudan and South Sudan.

"We are so happy, we can't believe she's back!" said the delighted parents.

Leila loves singing, especially dalouka (Sudanese drum) songs. Magda is pictured singing Leila's favourite song:

"How lovely is coffee with sherbet
I'm not alone, my beloved is with me
Enough my precious eyes, sleep
I'm not alone, my beloved is with me."

For more information on our work in South Sudan and Sudan to reunite families, visit:

*Names have been changed to protect privacy.

All photos: CC BY-NC-ND / ICRC / Asia Kambal and Yamila Castro