Save the Children, UNICEF and partners have successfully reunited 6,000 children with their families after years of separation due to conflict. This is a milestone for the Family Tracing and Reunification (FTR) programme in South Sudan since the first reunification of 420 children in 2014.
Seventeen-year-old Nyandor* – together with her four sisters and brothers – was reunited with her parents in Bentiu yesterday. She was the 6000th child to be reunified. The five siblings were separated from their mother and father during an armed attack in Bor in 2014. In the middle of the chaos the family ran in different directions and hadn’t seen each other since. After intense family tracing by Save the Children case workers, the family was finally made whole again yesterday.
“It was an emotional moment for everyone involved,” said Arshad Malik, Interim Country Director for Save the Children International South Sudan. “It was ululation, tears, and songs of happiness. Seeing the happiness in their faces after enduring so much fills us with hope. We won’t stop until all separated children are back home.”
Almost five years of conflict and more than four million people uprooted have combined to see children separated across the country. Almost 8,000 children in South Sudan are still missing or separated and in urgent need of family tracing. Separated and unaccompanied children are more susceptible to violence, abuse and exploitation, which makes returning them to their parents an urgent priority for UNICEF, Save the Children and partners.
The peace agreement signed in September 2018 has prompted refugees returning to South Sudan from neighboring countries and given access to areas previously inaccessible. If the peace holds, this can provide an opportunity to step up family tracing and reunification, if adequate funding for the programme is secured.
Yet, family tracing will remain labour intensive due to limited access to roads, mobile and data connection in South Sudan. The programme is heavily reliant on case workers walking long distances and knocking on doors to trace children and their parents.
“Despite all the difficulties, almost every week we see one or several children brought back to where they belong, namely with their families. This is much thanks to the all family tracing and reunification partners in South Sudan,” said UNICEF representative in South Sudan Mohamed Ag Ayoya. “To bring the rest of the children back home, we need strong partnerships and support from the international community.”