Although she soon settled into life in London, she often thought about her family and what had happened – until, after more than two years apart, the British Red Cross helped her find them.
A life indoors
Saytun Ali, now 19, grew up in Somalia with her parents and sisters. Her family belonged to a minority group, so she couldn’t go to school like other children in the area.
Instead, Saytun and her sisters had to mostly stay inside the house. The family worried constantly about their safety.
In April 2012, Saytun and her cousin were allowed to go to the local market, but fighting broke out in town. The violence blocked the way to Saytun’s home and she couldn’t get back.
Saytun and her cousin ran to their uncle’s house. He arranged for the three of them to escape to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Once there, her uncle tried to contact her family through Somali community links in the area – but with no success.
Seventeen and alone
Still concerned for her safety, Saytun’s uncle helped her travel to the UK on her own in August 2012 – aged only 17.
“It was so hard without my family,” she says. “I was happy that I finally felt safe, but some days I couldn’t eat I was so worried about them.”
Some supported housing was found in Hayes, west London. Soon Saytun was studying – enjoying the freedom and safety to do so, for the first time in her life.
But Saytun was desperate for news of her parents and sisters. She had no idea where they were or if they had survived the fighting.
Sending out messages
In December 2012, Saytun contacted the Red Cross’ International Family Tracing service.
Luckily, she could remember a lot of detail about her hometown, including local landmarks, which she marked on a hand-drawn map.
The team now had enough information to send a Red Cross message and tracing form to Saytun’s father, who was the most well-known member of her family. They also contacted BBC Somalia, in case Saytun’s relatives heard the radio programme.
“I felt hopeful when I heard about the tracing service and what they could do,” recalls Saytun. “Although they warned that they might also find sad news about my family, I was ready to hear everything. I felt sure I would get some news about them.”
News at last
After more than a year, the Red Cross finally received a message from the Somali Red Crescent.
Saytun came into the Red Cross office to hear the news.
Her family had been found. Her father had sent a message back, saying they were safe and well in Somalia. They also sent a telephone number, so Saytun could contact them.
“It was incredible… Amazing,” she says. “I was so happy! Before I got news, I would sit on my own and think about them all the time, but now I can call them anytime I want to talk.”
But there was more.
Saytun’s father told her that her older sister, who had fled Somalia at the same time, was also living in the UK.
Saytun found her sister’s address and travelled to northern England to be reunited.
She now has regular phone contact with her parents – and hopes they will one day be able to escape the constant conflict of Somalia and join her in the UK.
“I feel so grateful to the Red Cross for all they have done,” says Saytun. “I wish everyone could be as lucky as me.”