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Ten years on: Family of missing Jordanian still clings to hope

16-09-2013 Feature

Every year, hundreds of thousands of families around the world have to endure the anguish caused by the disappearance of a loved one. In Amman, one such family has been without news for ten years.

“We don’t know if he is dead or alive,” says Sabah bursting into tears. Her younger brother Bakr went missing in Iraq in 2003 at the age of 29.

"Bakr is the third in a family of eleven", said Sabah, a woman in her mid-forties, with the mixed emotions of grief, anxiety and hope clear on her face. "We haven’t heard anything about him for ten years. I wish someone could bring us news about his whereabouts,” she said.

Bakr is a Jordanian tradesman working in construction who used to live with his mother in one of Eastern Amman's neighbourhoods. In March 2003, the family received a call from Bakr saying that he was in Basrah, Iraq. “This was the last time we heard from him,” said Sabah.  

The family spent several months trying to search for Bakr, but all their attempts were in vain. When hope started to fade, Sabah went to the ICRC delegation in Amman in September 2003 and filed a tracing request to search for her missing brother. The ICRC delegations in Jordan and Iraq tried to confirm the whereabouts of Bakr through the last addresses given by the family. ICRC delegates who visit places of detention in Iraq also searched for him, but unfortunately, no trace of Bakr was ever found.

“Ten years of bitterness,” said Harbeh, the mother.” hugging a picture of Bakr.  "We have suffered in silence all that long. He left an empty space. I miss him so much, especially during Eid."  

“We are living under huge financial strains,” said Sabah. "With Bakr's disappearance, we had lost the family’s main breadwinner. My father died a long time ago. My mother’s health has also deteriorated over the past ten years because of her missing son."

According to Ali Abdallah, head of the tracing unit at ICRC Amman delegation, Bakr's family is like other families around the world torn by the anguish of a missing person.  These families share the same torment and endure the same psychological hardship. "Such families have to deal not only with years of uncertainty, but also in many cases with the loss of their breadwinner.  What helps them deal with the situation is hope, the hope that one day they will receive an answer. Sadly, the ICRC is not always able to provide that."

“I have waited for him for almost a decade. I will wait for another ten years. For me, he is still only 29 years old,” Harbeh says with a glimpse of hope in her eyes.  


Amman, Jordan. Sabah, with her mother Harbeh, holds a picture of her missing brother Bakr.  

Amman, Jordan. Sabah, with her mother Harbeh, holds a picture of her missing brother Bakr.