UNHCR – Conflicting feelings for family partially reunited after fleeing conflict in Tigray Donate

Eymaret and her mother Letha sit outside their shelter in eastern Sudan after seven agonizing months separated by conflict in northern Ethiopia. © UNHCR/Abdulkhaliq Khalif

Letha was seven months pregnant when she made the difficult decision to leave her home and family in the western Tigray region of Ethiopia.

When fighting broke out in November 2020, she was separated from her husband, son and daughter. She crossed the border into Sudan with her two youngest children, Ermyas (9) and Mahelet (7).

“I was afraid that if we stayed, something serious would happen to us”She says. “We had no choice but to flee. »

After crossing the border, they were placed in a reception center where UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, provided them with assistance, including food and shelter.

She then gave birth to a healthy boy, but she still felt lost and alone.

“I had no peace because I didn’t know where the rest of my family was”She says.

Almost 60,000 Ethiopian refugees have fled to eastern Sudan since the conflict began in Ethiopia’s Tigray region in November 2020.

The fighting had caused Letha’s family to scatter to different regions of Tigray. His 11-year-old daughter Eymaret had moved to live with her aunt in another town after schools closed following the conflict, while her son was with his father in Shire, another town in the Tigray region.

“The silence was unbearable. »

Though communications were frequently out of order in Tigray, Letha was determined to continue her attempts to reconnect with loved ones. A family rebuilding service has been set up by UNHCR’s partners, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Sudan Red Crescent. Reception centers near the border help refugees like Letha by making free phone calls or writing letters to find relatives with whom they have lost contact. When contact cannot be reestablished, the ICRC and the Sudanese Red Crescent register the requests and, in cooperation with the ICRC in Ethiopia, carry out active searches in the camps and across the border.

“The silence was unbearable”testifies Letha. “I was worried that something terrible might have happened, but I couldn’t give up. »

Eventually she managed to get in touch with Eymaret, who had traveled with her aunt to Humera near the border with Sudan. Eymaret then crossed the Tekeze river alone and then went to the Hamdayet transit center where she was picked up by her uncle.

“I didn’t have time to think. I just crossed the river and prayed I could make it through.”she remembers.

With the help of UNHCR, UNICEF and the Sudanese National Council for Child Welfare, Eymaret was finally reunited with his mother, ending seven months of separation and agony.

Letha and her daughter Eymaret with baby Mahder after their reunion. © UNHCR/Abdulkhaliq Khalif

“I was so happy to see her”confie Letha. “Losing a child is every mother’s worst nightmare. I was afraid that this would be my fate. »

In addition to the partners’ work to reunite separated families, UNHCR provides assistance to unaccompanied and separated children like Eymaret, including education and foster placements.

“We are pleased that this story has a happy ending and that we were able to ensure the protection and well-being of Eymaret.”says Sameh Fahmy, UNHCR’s protection officer in Gedaref, who has worked closely with partners to facilitate the reunion of Letha and Eymaret.

For Letha, however, the reunion is bittersweet as she keeps thinking about her husband and son, who are still being searched for and who have yet to meet the latest addition to the family.

She is concerned about the security situation and the fact “that it is becoming dangerous and increasingly difficult for people, especially men, to travel because of the fighting. »

“We had a good life at home and lived in peace. My dream is that our whole family will be together again.”closes them.

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