The Story of Parentless Children after the Crisis of Libya

Date Publish: 
03/27/12
Region-Country: 
Chad / Africa and Middle East

The 3rd of March, 2011 is a day that Fouda, 10 years old, will
never forget: it was the last time she and her three siblings saw
their father when he left their home in search of food for them. He
never returned.

It was the beginning of the crisis in Libya, which caused 91.000
Chadians to involuntarily return to their country of origin. Most
of them fled with their families, all together leaving their goods,
savings and jobs behind.

Fouda and her siblings, all underage, stayed home alone for 30
days just waiting to see their father would return, but they never
heard from him again. They could neither go out due to the street
commotion of the revolution nor understand well what was happening
in the country.

Zanaba, their mother, had left to visit a relative in Sabha, in
southern Libya, when the crisis started. Since the roads were
blocked, she could not return to Tripoli to join her four
children.

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In the middle of the hostilities, the neighbors decided to flee
the situation and seek refuge in Tunisia. They decided to take the
four children with them to keep them safe until they could be
reunited with their parents.

In Tunisia, the four children were registered in one of the IOM
transit centers where they were identified as unaccompanied minors
and assisted by the IOM staff to be moved to their parents´
country, Chad. In close collaboration between IOM Tunisia and IOM
Chad, the mother of the four children could be identified and it
was possible for the children to return to Chad.

IOM Chad also assisted another 27 unaccompanied minors with
primary care and reintegration packages. Where possible, IOM has
supported family tracing and reunification. Such process is
undertaken in order to guarantee the children's protection and
their reunion and reintegration with relatives.

This way, Zanaba's children were assisted by IOM to return to
N'Djamena - in a country unknown to them - where their uncle
awaited them at the airport.

Being parentless and in a foreign country was the first concern
they had to face. They had to start adapting to a new culture, a
new language, new friends and also a new family.

Two months had passed since they arrived in N'Djamena. It was
May then, and they had not heard from their parents. "I thought my
parents had died and I would never see them again", said Bouchara,
the oldest daughter, 17.

This was exactly what Zanaba believed, "I thought my children
had been murdered in the middle of the crisis and I would never see
them again…". Since roads to Tripoli were blocked, Zanaba
embarked on a one month journey through the desert from Sabha to
N'Djamena in the hope of being reunited with her children.

Then, one day in May, her children opened the door of the house,
where they were living with their uncle and aunt and could not
believe their eyes: their mother had survived the fighting and the
ordeal of the journey and had returned to them.

Zanaba had lived with her husband in Tripoli for 25 years. She
did housework and he worked in agriculture. Their children had been
born there and they all had a good quality of life. "My children
used to go to school and we had a nice house with all facilities
indeed. I would have never wanted to return to Chad, but here we
are…" says Zanaba.

The whereabouts of Zanaba's husband remained unknown. Nobody
heard about him, not even the friends who could escape Tripoli.
Zanaba only heard rumors saying alternately that he had been
murdered in the middle of the crisis or that he had been taken to
jail. But she did not trust anything she heard. She firmly
believed, that she would be seeing him again and that her entire
family would be reunited one day.

On March 17th, ten months later, Zanaba received a phone call
from her husband. "He said he is fine; he said he has been running
away from one place to another; he said he could not talk to me
more, but he expects to come to Chad soon to meet us", Zanaba says
with hopeful eyes.

IOM Chad is currently exploring options to facilitate his return
to be reunited with his family.

Zanaba rejoined her four children after two months of being separated during the Libyan Crisis. © OIM 2012
Zanaba does not give up hope of being reunited with her husband. ©IOM 2012