Eighty-three children in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, aged five to 19 years old, have at last been reunited with their families, sometimes after years of waiting. From 6 to 8 July, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Red Cross Society of the Democratic Republic of the Congo carried out an extensive operation to reunite these children, who had been separated from their families by armed conflict.
This large operation is the culmination of tracing work started between 2019 and 2021. In some cases, tracing the family members took a long time, because the address or other critical information was lacking, because the area was difficult to reach, or because of logistical or security constraints.
“You can see that the children need time to process what’s happening to them. Some of them don’t remember their parents,” said Florence Anselmo, head of the ICRC’s Central Tracing Agency.
The biggest reunion was in the town of Manono, where 53 families were overjoyed to see their children again. Jérémie was one such child: after a long time, he was at last reunited with his father.
“I’ve come home. I’ll go to school and one day I’ll be an information technology specialist,” he said, simply.
Since the beginning of the year, the ICRC has registered hundreds of cases of children separated from their parents as a result of armed conflict or other violence, mainly in the eastern part of the country. The numbers are growing sharply in North Kivu in particular, owing to the escalation of violence in Rutshuru.
To help these families, the ICRC and the DRC Red Cross have created a system to help people trace and contact their families if they have been displaced or separated from them. These efforts have allowed nearly 200 children from the Democratic Republic of the Congo to be reunited with their families in just the last six months, and more than 2,500 to be reunited between 2017 and 2021.
Length: 6 minutes 50 seconds
Location: DR Congo, Tanganyika, Pweto, Manono
Camera: Jonathan BUSASI NSALIMBI
Editing: Jonathan BUSASI NSALIMBI, Birom SECK
Date of filming: 6 July 2022
Copyright: ICRC access all
On-screen credit: ICRC written or logo
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Shots of the town of Pweto, located 450km from Manono, in the Tanganyika Region.
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Grace is 16 years old. She has been separated from her family and is impatient to return home after four long years away from her parents. Shots of the home where Grace’s host family lives.
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An ICRC vehicle arrives in the neighbourhood and parks in front of Grace’s house.
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Mama Béa has hosted and lodged Grace for the past two weeks. She helps Grace prepare for the journey home.
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Soundbite: Mama Béa Mukala, head of the host family in Pweto
“It’s time for her to return to her family.
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Grace isn’t the first unaccompanied child I’ve hosted.
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I have four children of my own as well.
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So it’s no trouble to take in other children in need.”
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Soundbite: Grace Kabeja, 16 years old, who has been displaced and separated from her family for four years
“In Kukonzolwa, the parishioners took care of us.
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A Red Cross volunteer offered to help me return home and I jumped at the chance.
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Some people say my parents are probably dead, others think there’s a chance they were able to flee.
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I asked the volunteer to register me anyway. I know where my grandmother is.”
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ICRC delegates transfer Grace and other children who have been separated from their families to Pweto Airport.
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Grace thanks Mama Béa, says goodbye and then goes with the others to Pweto Airport.
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The ICRC vehicle takes the children to Pweto Airport.
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The ICRC aircraft has just landed at Pweto Airport.
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The children are identified, board the aircraft and fasten their seatbelts before the flight to Manono.
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Takeoff of the ICRC flight to Manono.
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Shots of the children in the aircraft during the flight.
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Once they land in Manono, the ICRC delegates and the children who will be reunited with their families get off the plane.
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Shots of the town of Manono.
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Grace and the ICRC team arrive at a convent.
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In the courtyard of the convent, children play soccer.
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Soundbite: Albert Mbuyi, ICRC RFL delegate
“Her name is Grace. She’s an unaccompanied child.
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She was separated from her family and has been living in Pweto.
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We brought her here because we managed to find her parents.”
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It’s been a long trip and Grace has to wait a day at the convent before she can see her family again at last. Albert Mbuyi, ICRC RFL delegate explains:
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“We couldn’t reunite her with her family right away because her family isn’t here.
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Tomorrow we’ll continue on to Kiambi.
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And so, for the few hours before we leave, she’ll be taken care of at this religious centre.
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Tomorrow she’ll continue on and at last be reunited with her large family, after four years of being separated from them.”
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The ICRC team and the volunteers from the Red Cross Society of the Democratic Republic of the Congo are back on the road. This time they’re taking Jérémie home to his parents.
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Soundbite: Jérémie Amisi, a child who has been displaced for years
“I’m happy to be going home.”
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It’s a joyous day for Jérémie and his parents, who are happy to see each other again. His mother sings to him and tells everyone that her oldest son is back at last.
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Soundbite: Timothée Mugalu, father of Jérémie Amisi
“When the war broke out, he and his mother fled one way and I went the other way.
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My eldest son must return to school and make his papa proud of him.”
Soundbite: Jérémie Amisi, a child who has been displaced.
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“I’ve come home. I’ll go to school, and one day I’ll be an information technology specialist.”
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Jérémie and his papa go into the house together. </font>
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Soundbite: Florence Anselmo - ICRC
“Seeing these children reunited, I think it’s important to say
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just how hard the volunteers of the DRC Red Cross worked to make it possible.
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They spread the word about these services so that people know about them.
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They look for the family members and follow-up with the children after they’ve been reunited with their families.
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The follow-up is what remains now, and there’s an adjustment period.
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You can see that the children need time to process what’s happening to them.
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Some of them don’t remember their parents.
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We saw it with Jérémie. He didn’t remember his father. He wanted to go home but he didn’t remember his father.
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He’d lived most of his life with his mother. So we’ll want to follow-up and offer some guidance.”
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The ICRC aircraft left Manono for Kabalo to reunite other children with their families. In all, 11 trips were made over 48 hours to reunite 83 children.