ICRC reunites 31 children with parents

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) reunited 31 children with their parents in war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) on Wednesday and Thursday last week.

"One of the most painful aspects in humanitarian terms of any conflict situation is the separation of family members," the ICRC said in a statement issued at the weekend.

A total of 25 children were flown from Goma, eastern DRC, to the capital, Kinshasa, and six others from Kinshasa to Goma, an ICRC spokesman, Florian Westphal, told IRIN on Monday. The children had been separated due to fighting in the country’s ongoing war, he confirmed.

The transfers were delayed due to the eruption of Mt Nyiragongo on 17 January, Westphal said. Some of the children who had been sheltering in homes and orphanages in Goma prior to being transferred had fled when the eruption occurred. Many of these had to be relocated after the eruption, he confirmed.

The eruption of Nyiragongo, which resulted in a lava flow cutting Goma town in two, sent tens of thousands temporarily fleeing westwards towards Sake and eastwards across the Rwandan border to Gisenyi. To facilitate the reunification of dispersed families in Goma, following the return of its inhabitants, the Red Cross Society of the DRC has set up 12 contact points in Goma, as well as in Sake and Minova, between 30 and 50 km to the west of Goma, for parents seeking their children.

A total of 210 unaccompanied children had been registered in Goma, 80 in Bukavu and 150 in neighbouring Rwanda since the eruption. By 10 February, 71 of these had been reunited with their families, Westphal said.

A total of 800 tracing requests have been submitted to the ICRC, Save the Children and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) by parents looking for their children. It could not be excluded, however, that there may have been "doubling up", with concerned family members submitting several requests for the same child, Westphal said.

Meanwhile, UNICEF is launching a back-to-school campaign in Goma town, where 45 schools of a total of 150 have been destroyed, leaving 14,000 children without a primary school to attend. The aim is to provide temporary school facilities, if possible by the end of February.