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Mauritania: reunited with her son… at last!

17-01-2011 Feature

It was no ordinary day for the family of Ali,* who had been held at the Guantanamo Bay detention centre since 2001. They were about to see him and speak to him by videoconference from Nouakchott, the capital of Mauritania, for the first time since his arrest.

Ali’s family had been without news of him from 2001 to 2004. A Red Cross message, delivered by a volunteer from the Mauritanian Red Crescent, put an end to their intense anxiety. They were relieved to learn, at last, that Ali was alive. Since then, Ali and his family have exchanged many Red Cross messages. But seeing him on screen would bring him one step closer.

A little before nine in the morning, Ali's brothers, sisters, nieces and nephews filed into the ICRC office in Nouakchott. In the lead, assisted by a family member, was Ali’s 87-year-old mother, Hindou, who was determined to be present despite her age and infirmities.

The long-awaited moment

At nine o’clock, the sense of anticipation in the room was palpable. Everyone was straining towards the screen, waiting impatiently for the connection to be made.

When Ali's face appeared, his relatives could barely contain themselves. Hindou was the first to speak: “Do you recognize me, my son? What are you waiting for to come home?” On hearing these words, one of Ali’s sisters burst into tears.

Ali asked his mother to pray for his release. According to Mauritanian tradition, special prayers said by a mother can help her son escape from situations that seem hopelessly lost.

One by one, the other members of the family spoke with Ali. Concerned about their future, Ali gave his two nephews advice and urged them to be brave and study hard.

When Ali’s mother first heard about the possibility of speaking to her son by videoconference, she could hardly believe her ears – and she did not want to be given false hopes. When she finally saw her son after so many years, she found that he had aged: “He has so much grey hair now,” she said.

Hindou hopes that she will still be alive the day that Ali is allowed to return home. Every so often she takes out his Red Cross messages, which she keeps safely tucked away in a box, and buries her face in them.

* The names of both Ali and his mother have been changed

Bringing detainees and their families together by videoconference

Since September 2009, the ICRC has arranged for 13 videoconferences between detainees in Guantanamo and their families in Libya, Morocco, Mauritania and Tunisia. To date, detainees in Guantanamo and Bagram (Afghanistan) have spoken with their families 65 times by phone. Meanwhile, the ICRC continues to forward Red Cross messages.


Mauritania. Ali's mother receiving news from her son with the help of an ICRC delegate. 

Mauritania. Ali's mother receiving news from her son with the help of an ICRC delegate.
© ICRC / S. Beltifa