Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Successful family reunion

Successful family reunion
Somali Farha Sharif lost contact with her mother over 10 years ago. In August 2007 they were reunited thanks to Red Cross' Tracing and Messaging Services.

- My name is Farha and I believe you are my mother, said Farha Sharif on the phone to a woman she had not seen for more than 10 years. Crying, her mother replied - I am your mother, but I know that you are dead. What happened to you?

Not the average type of conversation for most people, but fully possible thanks to the Red Cross' work to locate the missing, account for their fates, restore contact between family members, and reunite them if possible.

Farha was only nine years old when the civil war started in her homeland Somalia. The family fled from the war torn port of Kismayo to Mombasa in Kenya. There, her mother Amina Ibrahim, father Mohamed Sharif, Farha and the two year younger sister Nasara found shelter in a refuge camp. Shortly after they arrived Mohammed went back to Kismayo. That was the last Farha and her family ever saw of him.

The long journey After four years in the camp, Farha went on a journey with some relatives. It took her through Niarobi and Holland, before reaching her final destination, London. She never thought that it would be over 10 years until she saw he mother again. Her mother and sister left the camp a few days after her, and Farha lost all contact with them.

Farha first contacted Red Cross in Holland, then in London, for help finding her mother and sister. In the end of 2006 they received a tip saying that a woman from Farha's tribe was in a Norwegian refugee processing centre. The Norwegian Red Cross was contacted, and Brita Liholm Johannessen at The Norwegian Red Cross Tracing and Messaging Services visited the centre, and found a woman named Amina Ibrahim. The Red Cross has a responsibility to protect both those who are searching and those who are found. Lilholm Johannessen therefore asked Amina if she wanted to be found. - No, because I believe someone is lying. My daughter is dead, Amina replied.

But when she was shown Farha's picture she got doubtful. Farha got the number to the refugee centre and called to speak to Amina. The first conversation was very emotional, and Farha spent a lot of time convincing her mother that it was possible that she had survived.

The first meting Shortly afterwards Liholm Johannessen followed Farha to a train station, were she had her first tearful meeting with her mother in more then 10 years. The contrast between the refugee camp in Kenya and the Norwegian countryside was enormous. - I was so happy, but also filled with panic for what would happen, said Farha.

Farha was told that the younger sister Nasra had gone missing from her mother during their journey from the refugee camp in Mombasa. The Red Cross is still tracing Nasra today.

Lilholm Johannessen says that Farha's case proves how important it is that Red Cross is available when people get separated from each other. - Thanks to good cooperation between the Red Cross and Red Crescent societies in the different countries, this case turned out good. It shows how important it is to have standardized routines, forms, and criteria for requests regarding tracing, she says.

Farha recognizes some symptoms of dementia at her mother, and she is sad because she can not reach her the way she hoped. But, she says, if they had found her a few years later it might have been too late.

Farha is now trying to get her mother to England so that they can be together. - My greatest wish right now is to live with her, Farha says quietly.

Source: Red Cross, Aug 06, 2008

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