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Reuniting families in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

20-11-2003 Feature

“Living alone without your parents, it is very difficult” says Nathalie. She has spent almost two years without her family. And many other children in this huge country are still separated from their families. But the Democratic Republic of the Congo is moving towards reunification, tracing activities are proceeding apace and families are being reunited more often.


Goma airport. Children being repatriated to Kinshasa to be reunited with their families.
©ICRC/Miranda, Virginie
Ref.CD-E-00072 - 09/2003 


The problem of unaccompanied children is especially acute in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Successive wars have left families scattered and poverty often forces parents to send children to relatives. This is a vast country. Communications facilities are limited, and beyond the reach of many. Once people lose touch, re-establishing contact can be very difficult.

Goma lies in the east and many children there have family across the border in Rwanda. Like Beata, who crossed the border and travelled 30 km to the ICRC’s Goma office in search of her sister, niece and nephew. She had lost touch with them two years ago, but now her luck was in, because the children were living in the Don Bosco Centre with 2,000 other orphans. The day after Beata arrived, the children were brought to the ICRC and handed over to her. Formalities duly completed, all three were given clothing before setting off for Rwanda.


Beata finaly reunited with her sister, niece and nephew.
©ICRC/Miranda, Virginie
Ref.CD-E-00076h - 09/2003 


In June, the ICRC began operating a second aircraft into the capital Kinshasa, in the west of the country. This meant more flights carrying children back to their families across the disengagement zone. In early September, a group of 28 boarded a plane at Goma airport for the four-hour flight to Kinshasa. They included Nathalie Kipeleka-Mwayuma, 18, who would be seeing her father for the first time in two years.

According to Anne-Marie Nabintu of the ICRC tracing team in Goma, more lost children have been finding their way to the ICRC since the peace agreement, as areas open up that used to be off-limits. It is hard to say how many lost children and orphans there are, but Goma has over a thousand cases open. Between January and November 2003, the ICRC was able to return almost 900 children to their families. This is happening in every province of the country, but only with the consent of all concerned. Pierre Claver runs tracing operations in Goma. As he explains in this video, children are only returned to their families if both the family and the child agree.