Côte d'Ivoire/Liberia: Mother and children reunited after three years
Thousands of people fled violence in Côte d'Ivoire during the country's 2010-2011 post-election crisis and sought refuge in Liberia. Many were children, forced to leave without their parents or even a close relative. A major Red Cross effort has since reunited many of these children with their families.
Grand Gedeh County, Liberia, at the border with Côte d’Ivoire.
ICRC tracing delegate Natalie Deffenbaugh leads Yehi, her children and others across the border into Côte d'Ivoire after a two-year tracing operation and a long journey across Liberia.
Yehi fled fighting near her village in Côte d'Ivoire, close to the Liberian border, in December 2010. Today she sits with her six children in an ICRC Land Cruiser, apprehensive about the long journey back to her home country.
"I was working in my field with three of my six children when the fighting began," she recalls. "I sent my husband to check on the others but he never came back. I had to flee the area and later cross the border into Liberia with the three children who were with me. Then a family in Nimba County took us in."
In October 2011, in another part of Nimba County, the Liberia National Red Cross Society reported that three unaccompanied Ivorian children needed help finding their mother. The Red Cross Society of Côte d'Ivoire made a determined but unsuccessful effort to find her.
In April 2013, Yehi approached Red Cross personnel who were distributing emergency aid. She asked them to help her find the three children she had left behind when she fled to Liberia.
The ICRC discovered that its tracing database included three children with the same surname as Yehi. Cross-checking confirmed that they were hers.
"We were surprised and delighted to discover that Yehi was living in the same area as her children," says Natalie Deffenbaugh, the ICRC delegate in charge of the tracing programme in eastern Liberia. "But there was still work to do. Yehi needed to get back to her sister in Côte d’Ivoire so that she could look after her children properly,. She'd had no news of her husband since the conflict, and her sister's home was the only place she could live."
Ivorian Red Cross staff found Yehi's sister and told the ICRC that she was willing to welcome Yehi and the children into her home.
On Thursday 26 September 2013, after a long journey through Liberia, across the border and into Côte d’Ivoire, Yehi and her six children were finally reunited with her sister.
Restoring contact between family members
In October 2013, the ICRC launched a campaign to help 42 Ivorian children living unaccompanied in Liberia, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and Guinea to rejoin their families. "We print the children’s pictures on large posters and display them in central locations such as churches, marketplaces, schools, mosques and refugee camps," said Ms Deffenbaugh. "We're hoping that family members or other people who know the children can provide information that will help us locate the parents."