Charity to bring long-lost children home

Theatre of war inspires pantomime pupils; Thousands of families wait to be reunited, writes Jojo Moyes
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At first many parents thought the Bosnian conflict would be over within days. They took their children, some with only the clothes they stood up in, and put them on trains to remove them from danger.

Today, up to 10,000 children in the former Yugoslavia are still separated from their families. Some have not seen or heard from their parents since the war began.

Kevin Byrne, 42, is the Save the Children Fund (SCF) field director for the federal republic of Yugoslavia, and one of two men faced with the daunting task of trying to reunite children with their parents, or find homes for those who no longer have a family.

"Some of them haven't seen their parents for years," he said. "There are a lot of kids who have grown up while they've been separated."

Mr Byrne oversees SCF's reunification programme, which has identified 2,650 unaccompanied children in the former Yugoslavia alone. More than 460 of these have no families to return to. In Bosnia, where the process of identifying the unaccompanied children has just begun, nearly 4,000 have already been registered.

The children are usually aged between seven and 18. SCF registers them and tries to organise interim care, whether it be counselling for those who are traumatised - many children saw their parents die - or material help. "They usually need food and clothing," said Mr Byrne, adding that clothing was particularly important in the "ferocious" winters.

SCF's 12 workers try to organise "host" families for the children. But, Mr Byrne said, "Many host families are quite poor and taking another child is quite a strain."

For some parents, who are in mixed marriages or who live in mixed areas, it would "take time" for them to feel it is safe for their children to return.

Mr Byrne said that the need is not just for emergency aid. "Children are always very resilient, but I don't think there are any children who haven't been affected. What we're trying to do is minimise the long-term negative effects."

The Save the Children Fund aims to reunite all the children, but Mr Byrne says the charity's work will continue for at least the next three years.

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