War and disaster separate thousands of children from their families every year. Here’s how we get them home.
Imagine the fear of being separated from your child in the chaos of a natural disaster or war. Imagine the despair of not seeing them for months or years, just hoping they’re alive and safe.
Now imagine the moment you find them again.
That's a moment that happened thousands of times last year. When disaster strikes or violence breaks out, UNICEF locates unaccompanied children and keeps them safe. We work with local partners, innovative mobile networks and painstaking research to trace their families and bring them back together again
A family back together again in Romania
Maryna was living and working in the Czech Republic to earn money to support her family, while her two-year-old daughter Emilia stayed at home in Ukraine with her father and grandmother.
But when the war broke out, Maryna was desperate to be with little Emilia. Thankfully, UNICEF was there to help. Mother and daughter were reunited at a UNICEF-supported Blue Dot hub in northern Romania.
Emilia crossed the border with her grandmother and was waiting for Maryna to arrive and pick her up. “We will definitely be back when everything works out in Ukraine. When it will get more quiet,” says Maryna.
Blue Dot centres are safe spaces for children and families along border crossings in neighbouring countries. Families can access critical information and support for their onward journey.
UNICEF and its partners have currently established 25 Blue Dot hubs across Bulgaria, Italy, Moldova, Romania, Poland and Slovak Republic.
For children like Emilia, Blue Dot hubs provide a safe, welcoming space to rest, play and simply be a child, at a time when their world has been abruptly turned upside down.
"Ukrainian children tell us that they want to reunite with their families, to return to their communities, to go to school and play in their neighbourhoods"
Reunited at last
In late-2018, and with the assistance of UNICEF, Chogi was finally reunited with his mother after five years of separation. Back in 2013, his mother Khamisa was out looking for firewood around Malakal when fighting broke.
A neighbour saved Chogi and his two siblings by taking them into the bush and ultimately onto Juba, the capital.
UNICEF and partners were able to successfully trace Khamisa based on the information provided by her three children. Shortly thereafter, Chogi and his brother (Jidu) and sister (Ferdos) were reunited with their mother in Malakal.
"Since that day I’ve been constantly smiling, I’m so happy they came back to me. I will never let go of their hands every again"
When crisis breaks out, UNICEF is among those first on the ground, listening to communities to see what children need most.
That means delivering the right supplies and protection fast, making sure every child in need is supported and building sustainable solutions that’ll last long after the headlines fade. Learn more about our work in emergencies here.
Case managers: everyday heroes
“No words can describe my happiness when I see a child run into their parents’ arms,” says Ruqaya. Together with her team, she has successfully reunified more than 75 children with their caregivers.
Ruqaya supervises a team of 38 case managers with a UNICEF-supported partner in northeast Syria. The team connect separated and unaccompanied children with essential services, often working work in camps where displaced families have taken shelter from violence.
"Children have the right to live in a safe environment, to grow up with their families and among their siblings."
The reunification process is often lengthy and can last for months. But Ruqaya believes case management is a life-changing support.
“Things take time sometimes, but the team and I stay motivated as long as there is progress. It means that the distance between the child and his or her caregivers is getting shorter."
“Children have the right to live in a safe environment, to grow up with their families and among their siblings.”
Ruqaya and her colleagues have supported countless numbers of Syrian children who have lost track of their parents due to the conflict. They are the hidden everyday heroes.
In 2021, thanks to our generous donors, UNICEF reached more 450 protection workers and community volunteers in northeast Syria, with training on child protection subjects.
UNICEF-trained case managers supported 5,000 children and adult survivors of gender-based violence and provided support through case management.
Found after four years
Nyajiper was separated from her parents for more than four years. Her father was found in Bor, a city in central South Sudan, and Nyajiper was reunited with him just a few weeks later.
Together with partners, our teams identify and register children travelling on their own and connect them to protection services. It’s thanks to this important work that children like Nyajiper can be reunited with their loved ones.
“I create a special bond with these children,” says caseworker Simon Char. “When they see me, they often come running towards me, hugging me. I’m almost like their father while we are looking for the real parents.”
Simon assists family tracing and reunification with UNICEF’s partner in Malakal, South Sudan. Together, we have reunified close to 6,000 children since the conflict broke out in 2013.
"The best part of my job is when I see the reunited family happy and smiling together as a result of the miracle that just happened."
Protecting the most vulnerable
Said, eight years old, is hearing impaired and lived with his father, mother and two brothers in Macomia. He and his father were not at home when his mother Matiura (32) had to flee armed groups' attacks in 2019 with her other two children.
Matiura thought Said and her father Amade were together and was hopeful that they had managed to escape. Three months later she managed to contact her husband and discovered that Said was not with him, but thankfully a neighbour found him alone in the bush and took him with her Montepuez over 200km away.
Now Said is back with his family and lives in the city of Pemba with his parents and siblings. UNICEF and partners work to ensure the well-being of unaccompanied and separated children, including children with disabilities, who need family tracing and reunification.
When emergency strikes, UNICEF can deliver life-saving help and protection to children in just 48 hours to more than 190 countries. Thanks to our donors, our teams are always there for children, acting quickly, whenever and wherever needed.
Play a part in keeping children safe
UNICEF teams are crossing battle lines every day to reunite children with their familes and deliver emergency health care, water and nutrition. But we we need your help to keep this work going.
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