Mohammdau waits to board a flight

Mohammadu waits to board a flight to be reunited with his stepfather, who he hasn’t seen in two years. Photo credit: Rahima Gambo / British Red Cross.

In the chaos of an armed attack, you might only have seconds to escape with your life. Yet surviving can feel bittersweet if you become separated from loved ones in the process.

This may sound surreal but it is a real experience shared by many living in Africa’s Lake Chad region. Years of armed conflict originating in Nigeria have torn families apart.

Today marks International Day of the Disappeared – a day where we recognise the thousands of people still missing.

But we also have a positive story to share which shows the moment loved ones are finally reunited.

Over two years ago, 15-year-old Mohammadu fled alone from the conflict in Nigeria to Chad. He left behind his mother, stepfather and other siblings. He hadn’t seen any of them since then – until recently.

The Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement reunites families torn apart by conflict, disaster and migration. The Red Cross societies of Nigeria and Chad, with the help of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), managed to find Mohammadu’s stepfather and took him to be reunited.

Mohammdau on board to be reunited with his stepfather

Mohammadu waits to board a flight to be reunited with his stepfather, who he hasn’t seen in two years. Photo credit: Rahima Gambo / British Red Cross.

Sadly, Mohammadu’s mother become ill and died while he was in Chad. Reuniting with his stepfather was a significant and emotional experience for both of them.

Here’s the moment they were reunited…

Reuniting families

In the Lake Chad region, there are still many more cases to solve. Some 10,480 people, most of them children, are still looking for missing loved ones.

Poor phone communication infrastructure within the region means it’s easy to lose contact with relatives.

The ICRC and Red Cross societies in the region are working hard to find them.

The tracing process is meticulous and involves a wide network of people. The Red Cross is able to do this thanks to the presence of the ICRC. We also have help from the network of National Societies in each country and the presence of staff and volunteers in even the remotest villages.

Things like mobile phones do make the process quicker and easier. But in some cases the only way to find information is to visit settlements for those who have fled their homes and talk to people directly.

This means humanitarian access is really important, too. The Red Cross gained access to where Mohammadu is from towards the end of last year and has been helping reunite families from the area since February.

Mohammdau with his stepfather

Mohammadu is finally reunited with his stepfather. Photo credit: Rahima Gambo / British Red Cross.

Why are families being torn apart around Lake Chad?

Thousands of people have fled conflict in north-east Nigeria in search of safety. In doing so, some have crossed borders pulling neighbouring Cameroon, Niger and Chad into the crisis – the countries surrounding Lake Chad.

The separation of families in this criss-crossing of movement is just one of many issues in the region. Conflict, displacement and climate change have led to a situation of acute food shortages and disease as well.

Despite the grave situation, stories from the Lake Chad crisis do not often make the headlines, meaning it is effectively a silent emergency.

International Day of the Disappeared

We can’t tell you how many people are missing in the world today, but we do know this problem affects virtually every country.

More people are being reported missing than ever before: and not just in countries at war. The world is seeing the largest numbers of refugees since 1945, and migration is at a record high.

Although the world is changing, our responsibility towards missing people remains the same. There is a legal responsibility to prevent people from going missing and clarify the fate of those who do.