Tanzania: Family reunited amid a sea of refugees

19 June 2015
Tanzania: Family reunited amid a sea of refugees
Newly arrived refugees from Burundi register with a member of the Red Cross at in Nyagurusu Camp in Mekere, Tanzania. CC BY-NC-ND / ICRC / Kate Holt

Augustin Minani thought he would never see his children again. Fearing for his life after deadly attacks broke out in his neighbourhood in Burundi, the 31-year-old and his wife fled their home. But their two young children, Brighton and Bruce, were left behind.

"They were staying with my older brother that night and I couldn't get to them to collect them so that we could go together," Augustin said. 

Thousands are living in Nyagurusu camp where the Tanzania Red Cross, with support from the ICRC, is running a tracing service to reunite families.

Augustin and his wife walked for five days, crossing from Burundi into Tanzania, where they settled in the Nyagurusu refugee camp. More than 50,000 refugees are now living in Nyagurusu out of fear that the political violence that broke out in May over the country's upcoming presidential election could affect them.

About 60 percent of the refugees in Nyagurusu are children. As luck would have it, two of the many children there were Augustin's.

Refugees who have fled ongoing political unrest in Burundi go about their early morning tasks in the Nyagurusu Refugee camp in Mekere, Tanzania. CC BY-NC-ND / ICRC / Kate Holt

Three weeks had passed without word of Brighton, 6, and Bruce, 2. But then the Restoring Family Links project run by the Tanzania Red Cross Society (TRCS) with the support of the ICRC helped reunite them.

"As soon as I got there I tried to approach the Red Cross to tell them I had lost my two children," he says. "I asked them how I could be reunited with them and they told me about a tracing programme. So I gave them my brother's number. Then one day I had a call from the Red Cross and they said they had two children and to come and see if they were mine."

"They were! I was so very happy to see them. They embraced me so much. We were crying through happiness. I prayed to God and thanked him that this tracing programme had been put in the world," Augustin said. "I thought that maybe I would not see them again because I could not comprehend how they would reach me. They were so far away."

Restoring family links

Consolate Manirakiza, who fled ongoing political violence in Burundi, looks on a notice board run by the Red Cross for people who are searching for lost family at the Red Cross tracing unit in the Nyagurusu Refugee camp in Mekere, Tanzania. CC BY-NC-ND / ICRC / Kate Holt

The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement's Restoring Family Links initiative works around the world to locate separated families and put relatives back in contact. The Movement can help restore and maintain contact between family members in situations of armed conflict, other types of violence, natural or man-made disasters and migration.

Since the beginning of the influx of the Burundi population to Tanzania, the Tanzania Red Cross Society, with support from the ICRC, has facilitated more than 8,000 phone calls and carried out 217 family reunifications in the Nyagurusu camp.

A woman and her baby register a missing relative with the Red Cross Restoring Family Links unit in the Nyagurusu Refugee camp in Mekere, Tanzania. CC BY-NC-ND / ICRC / Kate Holt

"Our job is important because many people have been separated without any means of communicating and need help to have contact with their families," said Rosette Nduwimana, one of the 25 Tanzania Red Cross volunteers in the Restoring Family Links programme at Nyagurusu. "We deal mainly with children trying to find their families and give them support."

One such child is 17-year-old Kemneze Honorine, whose life was turned upside down in the recent Burundi violence. "I went to school with some of my brothers and sisters. Then when we went home that evening our parents weren't there. They had fled with our other brother and sister. I don't know if they're still alive." The Restoring Family Links programme is working to find Kemneze's parents and reunite the family.