Kenya: finding a missing loved one brings relief beyond words
As well as meeting the emergency physical needs of the displaced in the Rift Valley, the Red Cross is using a poster campaign and telephone hot-lines to try to bring together members of families who got separated in the post-election violence. The ICRC’s Anne Mucheke reports.
Philip Nderitu comes out of a room at the Eldoret showground's main building and embraces his five sons in a big hug. They are meeting for the first time since the New Year after being displaced by the post-election violence that has rocked large areas of Kenya's Rift Valley.
Nderitu's family had a home in Maili Nne, a village near the Eldoret and the showground where he is now camping, along with thousands of others. At the start of the clashes, he fled the family home and got separated from his wife, her baby and his five older sons.
The family has finally been reunited, thanks to the tracing efforts of the Kenya Red Cross (KRCS) and the ICRC.
“They burned our house to the ground and we fled to the forest,” says Ben Karimi, one of Nderitu’s sons. “We were lucky to escape with a few belongings. Our neighbours, who we had lived with for many years, later took us in and gave us food, but we never left our land during the day.”
“Now we are trying to start a new life and are renting a house in Kambi Moto, where it is safer,” adds Ben. “However, we were desperate to find our father. When Sister Sebi from the Red Cross came to look for us, she gave us the good news that he was here in the camp and he was looking for us.” Their step-mother had been brought back together with their father just two days earlier, through the Red Cross.
Nderitu is a machine operator and used to make a comfortable living. But he is reluctant to go back home, out of fear. “I have lost so many things and I am not willing to risk my life because of this situation,” he says. “At least my family is alive and well!”
Two children were returned to their families on the same day, in different areas of Rift Valley province. One was in Timboroa, about 30 kilometres south of Eldoret, and another in Kitale, to the north.
“The Red Cross has handled 234 cases of people anxious to get in touch with their families. So far, eight have been reunited and 20 are waiting, most of them unaccompanied children,” says KRCS regional manager Abdinoor Mohammed.
The showground's main building serves as a temporary office for Red Cross volunteers. Pictures of missing children are pasted up, with posters giving information about who to contact should they be spotted in the camp. The same pictures are found in the various camps around the Rift Valley where the children might have ended up.
The KRCS has also set up a telephone hotline for tracing requests, with local numbers in seven cities and towns in other affected areas.
A man comes in to ask how he can find his wife, who got separated in the upheaval; another is giving information about his two missing brothers. Everyone hopes that, somehow, the Red Cross can help them find their missing relatives.
Identifying the dead
In addition to tracing lost family members, the ICRC is working to identify bodies lying at the mortuary at the Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital in town.
“The ICRC has sent two forensic experts to the hospital to assist in identifying the bodies. We are also helping families of the deceased with coffins and transportation of the bodies, to ensure they get a decent burial,” says Christophe Beney, head of the ICRC office in Eldoret.
Among the camps for displaced, Eldoret is the largest, hosting nearly 13,000 people; it has been running since 8 January. These victims of the post-election violence now depend for their survival o n the Red Cross and other agencies for food and basic necessities.