Africa: Nigeria – Reuniting a Family After More Than a Decade of Separation

In 2012, many people from the northeast Nigerian town of Banki were forced to leave due to conflict. Among them was Bashir*.

“Today brings more joy to me and my wife than the day he was born”.

These are the words of Bashir’s father when he and his wife were reunited with their child after he had been missing for more than a decade, due to the long-running armed conflict in northeast Nigeria.

“It was devastating for us when he was lost, without word of his whereabouts, all these years,” Bashir’s father said.

Bashir had sought shelter in neighbouring Cameroon along with other children and adults after an attack on Banki, where he had been staying with an uncle to attend religious schooling. His uncle died in the attack.

Eventually, he returned to Nigeria – finding a temporary home in the northeast local government area of Bama.

It was only in September 2022 that his circumstances were registered as a case with a team of Nigerian Red Cross Society (NRCS) volunteers who work in Bama to help reconnect families separated by conflict or displacement.

Then, in just under five months of tracing, a connection with his family was established and plans were made to help Bashir make the journey from Bama to reunite with his family in Maiduguri, in northeast Nigeria’s Borno State.

On a blue-sky Wednesday in February, the reunion finally took place.

Babagana Ali was the NRCS volunteer who first registered Bashir’s case in Bama, working closely with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to trace the child’s family.

“I am the happiest among our team who worked towards the reunion,” Babagana said.

“The process was encouraging every step of the way… the boy was patient and informative all the way.”

For the ICRC and NRCS teams who worked to find Bashir’s family and reunite them, the case was relatively quick to resolve thanks to Bashir’s recollection of key details that helped with the tracing.

Bashir was able to remember information about his parents and where they lived before, he had left for religious school in Banki – 133 kilometres from their home.

Tatjana Halpaap, from the ICRC team in Maiduguri, helped coordinate Bashir’s return home.

“For us, it is motivating to see – with more than 25,000 cases of missing people in Nigeria, there is so much to do,” she said.

“It is a whole team effort, and we are lucky when children remember where they are from, their parents, their family.”

Tatjana recalls how Bashir had even been able to draw a map identifying his family’s house. He’d remembered other useful details, like the name of his childhood friend who lived in the area.

Bashir’s grandmother was also there to witness the moment when Bashir saw his parents for the first time in more than a decade.

As she tells it: “the reunion was sweeter than honey”.

*Names have been changed.

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