Humanitarian partners and UNICEF reunify 17 children with their families in Kibumba, eastern DRC
Kibumba, Democratic Republic of the Congo, 18 December 2012 - Niranwabimana Hangi, 45, and her three children were separated for nearly two months. “Today my children were born again,” she smiles. “Please keep doing the great job, finding our lost children.”
Chance Semivumbi, 16, and his two younger brothers Ismael, 13 and Tito 10, are among 17 unaccompanied children who were reunited with their families on 14 December. They live in Kibumba, an area controlled by the M23 rebel group. The siblings lost track of their parents in the chaos that followed the clashes between M23 and the Congolese Army.
Throughout their ordeal Chance remained brave, looking after his younger brothers. “When I realized that we lost track of our parents I took my two younger brothers by the hand,” he says. “I told them that we must stick together. That’s how we reached Mugunga.” In Mugunga III, an internally displaced site located 12 kilometers west of Goma, the Semivumbi brothers survived from hand to mouth. “I made us a hut with some sticks and a piece of plastic sheeting,” explains Chance who acted as ‘head of household’.
Since April 2012, over 500,000 people have fled their homes across the province, causing numerous family separations. In IDP sites in and around Goma, UNICEF partner PAMI has set up orientation points and documented more than 750 separated and unaccompanied children. PAMI refers the children to basic care services while family tracing is underway.
Yet family tracing is not always an easy task when insecurity prevails. “Our volunteers do not have access to some of the conflict-affected areas,” explains Bienfait Mutabazi, PAMI child protection supervisor. “Sometimes, they risk their lives to reach families. Some children remain with us for a long time before they can be reunified with their families,” he adds. To make each reunification a success UNICEF and its partners reach out to parents, neighbors and local authorities.
Yet, while reunifying 17 children in one day is a success, much more needs to be done. “There are so many children who would like to see their parents again,” emphasizes Ildephonse Birhaheka, UNICEF Child Protection officer. “UNICEF needs more support from the international community to give children and their parents the opportunity to live together again,” he adds.
To fund family reunification activities in both North and South Kivu, UNICEF has an urgent need for $US 750,000, to ensure the care and reunification of at least 3,000 separated and unaccompanied children in both provinces.