Muntazer - the son that waits
In the Middle East, wars and their consequences tend to overlap. The ICRC is still helping to repatriate POWs captured in the conflict between Iran and Iraq in the 1980s – 59 Iraqi prisoners were brought home on 5 May. The continuing separation is a nightmare for the families, as Bernt Apeland reports from northern Iraq.
It is 1.30 pm and we have been driving around Kirkuk for four hours. Looking for an address that doesn't exist. Hoping to find to find a father who hasn't heard from his son in 15 years.
Our mission is simple, yet difficult. We are here to deliver a short message from a son that has been a prisoner of war in Iran for 15 years without any means of communicating with his family. The problem is that the address he has given us is 15 years old, and it simply isn't there anymore.
So here we are, nearly giving up hope. We have been driving up and down all the streets in the neighbourhood where the father used to live. We have been to the other side of town – and back again. Pursuing more or less promising leads. All of them have proved to be dead ends so far and finally we decide it is time to give up and start looking for the next person on our list. We just have to drop off our local guide first. Spirits are low when we pull up in front of his house; this is not turning out the way we had expected.
But at the gate of our guide's house there is a lot of excitement going on. The word has been spreading in the streets, and apparently the sister of " our " POW has been enquiring about the people looking for her father. No wonder we couldn't find him. He has moved out of town. But the sister still lives here, just a few blocks from where we are right now!
Finally we ha ve an existing address, and after getting lost just a couple of times, we pull up in front of the sister's house. Wary, she greets us from the gate, anxious to know why we have been looking for her father, and after establishing her identity we can break the news: " We have a message from your brother. " Silent tears run down her cheeks, and all of a sudden we realise what a beautiful spring day this is. The sky is blue and the sun is shining.
Our message is short. It consists of three simple words: " Safe and well " . Nothing more. But, for a sister that hasn't had any news of her brother in 15 years, and for her teenage sons who have never seen their uncle, it means the world. " Thank you " , she says, and those words mean the world to us. We have been able to restore a family link that has been broken for more than a decade.
It is a very emotional moment when she fills out the reply message to the brother. Soon we will be able to tell him , that there is a family waiting for him in his home town. She invites us to stay for lunch, but we have more families to trace so we decline politely and head out to our car. " First and foremost I put my trust in God " , she says as we are leaving; " But after God, I put my trust in you, in the ICRC. "
It's now 4. 30 pm and we have been driving up and down countless more streets, pursuing countless new leads, but now we have been lucky, we have been able to trace two more families. We have established a link between two brothers and between a father and a son. The absent father is now a grandfather. " I had decided to wait to get married till my father returned, but after 10 years I couldn't wait any longer, so now there is a " junior " waiting for him as well, " the son tells us.
We are entering the last house of the day, seeking a brother. The brother isn't home but his son greets us. He tells us that they have been waiting for his uncle for 15 years and 53 days. As he fills out the reply message he asks us if we can transmit an oral message to his uncle as well. " Please inform him " , the nephew says; " That on the day he went missing, his wife was pregnant, and he has a son that he doesn't know about. The name of his son is Muntazer. "
" Muntazer " means " waiting " in Arabic. He has been waiting to see his father for 15 years. Let's hope his waiting is soon to be over.