Uganda: Families of the missing desperate for news
It is never an easy task. Between April and August 2022, armed clashes in Rutshuru territory forced more than 50,000 people to cross the border searching for safety in Uganda.
"I crossed into Uganda with my four children, but I lost three of them on the way. I haven't seen them since," says Muhaawe, who fled her home in the neighboring DRC and is now staying at Nyakabande Holding Centre in Kisoro district.
As a result of the armed clashes, thousands of refugees lost contact with their family members and are desperate looking for their relatives, who have either stayed in DRC or got lost on the way and arrived in other refugee settlements.
“No one prepares for war, you just run the way you would run from a plague.”— ICRC Africa (@ICRC_Africa) June 20, 2022
Fighting continues to drive people out of DRC into Uganda.#WorldRefugeeDay pic.twitter.com/SsbHe7oSD6
It is painful to see children who lost sight of their parents in the madness of running away from fighting and crossing the border. They are inconsolable and I am extremely worried for them as well
says Uwimana Judith a volunteer from the Ugandan Red Cross Society (URCS), who works in Nyakabande Holding Centre.
The URCS with the support of the ICRC registered some 900 unaccompanied children in the past several months. Volunteers working with refugees pay special attention to elderly people and people living with disabilities as well.
No one wants to be separated from their loved ones.— ICRC Africa (@ICRC_Africa) June 20, 2022
But, this is the sad reality for many people, especially children who have had to flee eastern #DRC into #Uganda.#WorldRefugeeDay pic.twitter.com/3FfE2bCki7
While Congolese refugees fleeing violence arrive in Uganda and become separated from their loved ones, thousands of Ugandan families are still waiting for answers about the fate of their relatives who disappeared decades back. Families live in an uncertainty from the first moment they lose contact with their loved ones. This might lead to emotional exhaustion and lasting wounds until they finally receive news or re-establish the contact with them.
My two children Okot and Odoch, went missing 20 years ago. We don't have any hope of our children ever returning. They have been gone so long
says Victoria, a resident of Layamo Village in Palabek Gem Subcounty.
Her children disappeared during the conflict with the Lord's Resistance army. For Victoria and other families like hers, time does not relieve their enduring pain. Living in uncertainty means people cannot find closure.
Behind every missing person, there is a family suffering from the anguish of not knowing the whereabouts of their loved ones and struggling with the multiple consequences. Along with the pain, that only grows as years go by without answers, these families often face psycho-social, legal and economic difficulties.
It is extremely important that authorities, communities and the society at large acknowledge what these people are going through and try to support them
says Christoph Sutter, the head of the ICRC regional delegation in Uganda. "We can help them trying to provide the long-awaited answers, of course, or by responding to other needs."
In Uganda, volunteers, and staff of the URCS in Kisoro, with the support of the ICRC, collect tracing requests from the families that are looking for their loved ones. On the other side of the border, the Congolese Red Cross and the ICRC teams receive the information collected in Uganda and try to trace missing relatives and give answers to the families.
Free telephone calls and exchange of Red Cross Messages facilitated by the URCS in Kisoro enable families to re-establish and maintain contact with their loved ones and exchange news. Unaccompanied children and vulnerable adults in Kisoro are a major priority. They are registered and reunified with their families whenever possible.
"We would like to call upon the public to support our efforts during the tracing of missing persons," says Robert Kwesiga the Secretary General of the Uganda Red Cross Society. "Our volunteers work tirelessly and give the best of themselves to help families separated by emergencies."