How mobiles help deliver tiny miracles after war and natural disasters
Emily Dugan finds phone technology now plays role in reuniting families torn apart
Emily Dugan is Social Affais Editor for The Independent, i and Independent on Sunday. She was previously a news reporter for The Independent on Sunday. Her investigations into human trafficking have twice been awarded Best Investigative Article at the Anti-Slavery Day Media Awards and her human rights journalism was shortlisted for the Gaby Rado Memorial prize at the 2012 Amnesty Media Awards. Emily is on sabbatical until March 2015
Sunday 10 March 2013
For thousands of children around the world reunited, finally, with their parents after months or years kept apart by disaster, what we call Mother's Day will be a special cause for celebration.
Up to 10 per cent of children caught up in international emergencies are likely to become separated from their parents, according to the aid agency International Rescue Committee (IRC). But experts say that thanks to advances in technology – where databases and photographs can be carried around in a mobile phone – it is becoming easier for agencies to reunite families pulled apart by war and natural disasters.
The aftermath of the Haiti earthquake in 2010 saw the biggest split of families in recent history, when 8,212 children were registered as separated. Though there are no records for the overall numbers of children brought back to their parents, the IRC has already reunited more than 900 families.
Laura Boone, a child protection technical adviser for the IRC, said the problem remains endemic but is getting easier to solve: "In every emergency, whether it's small or large, man-made or not, we see child separation, but technology has helped to make reunification easier."
Susan Bissell, the chief of child protection at Unicef, the UN Children's Fund, said: "The field has really advanced in this area. We have been working with technology companies to give us mobile tools to help bring families together and we're piloting them in Uganda and South Sudan."
To mark Mother's Day, The Independent on Sunday reproduces here extraordinary stories of mothers reunited with their children.
Genevievre, 43, and her husband, Goun, 46, became separated from their two daughters, Triphose, then 13, and Lidane, 3, following election violence in 2010.
It was a year before the girls were found in a nearby village. Genevievre said: "There were a lot of rumours that many refugees had fled to Liberia. It drove me crazy … we didn't give up looking for them. When they arrived, our eyes met across the crowd and I started crying. We were together again. I am just happy that I will see them grow up close to me."
Negasi ran away from his home in Senaafe, Eritrea, in 2010 when he was 15 years old, to live in a refugee camp in Ethiopia. His sister, Delina, soon followed. After seven months – and a spell in prison for letting her son escape – their mother, Asmeret, fled, too.
Recalling the moment she arrived at an Ethiopian refugee camp, Asmeret said: "At the screening centre, the officers told me that my daughter and son were also in camps. I cried when I heard they had made it to Ethiopia safely. On my way to the refugee camp for families I went past the camp for single men and saw my son walking towards the IRC primary school. I screamed with joy and begged the driver to allow me to get off the bus and see my son but he wouldn't let me. I started screaming through the window and he heard me and ran up to the bus. I was crying but I managed to touch his hand. I couldn't believe what happened. It was a miracle for me to see my son. He was well dressed and looked so grown up." [Names have been changed to protect identities]
Esperance, 43, and her husband, Fidel, 51, fled to Burundi in 2010 to avoid fighting in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
They had to make the difficult choice to leave behind two of their five children – Chantal, then aged 14, and Fils, four, – with their grandmother in a nearby village. A year later, they were reunited at Bwagiriza refugee camp in Burundi. Esperance said: "I cried so much when we saw my children again. They were tears of joy, but also more. It was as if I was dead and someone just woke me up. It really was the most beautiful day of my life."
Carnise, 55, and her husband, Dieuseul, 51, are struggling rural farmers from north-east Haiti.
In 2004, they were persuaded by a local pastor to send their four children to his orphanage for their education, but it was closed in 2011 when the pastor was jailed for child-trafficking and slavery. The IRC reunited the family in July last year. Carnise said: "The pastor told us that their lives would be better at the orphanage – we believed him. We made a mistake agreeing to let them go. It would have been better to have begged on the street than to have let my children leave. The day we were brought back together again was fantastic. I cried so much and I am so happy to have them back."
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