• Text size Normal size text | Increase text size by 10% | Increase text size by 20% | Increase text size by 30%

Brothers reunite with mother after ordeal in Central African Republic

News Stories, 26 May 2014

Ramatou holds Moussa's hand as she takes him to the reception centre in Mbile Refugee Camp, where he and his brother will be registered by UNHCR and its partners. They will then receive a hot meal.

MBILE REFUGEE CAMP, Cameroon, May 26 (UNHCR) Four months ago, Ramatou faced every parent's worst nightmare the possibility of losing a child. Last week, she had a joyful reunion with two of her missing sons, aged 10 and 11, at a refugee camp in eastern Cameroon, but it was a bitter-sweet moment because her husband and eldest boy were still missing.

Many of the other Central African Republic refugees in Mbile camp understand what Ramatou is going through. They too have had to flee villages in a hurry to escape surprise attacks, and many families get separated in the confusion. UNHCR and its partners try to reunite families, but some will never show up.

Ramatou's ordeal began on a nondescript mid-January day, when the spreading violence that has plagued the Central African Republic for months reached her village in the south-west, where she lived with her husband and 11 children. The family ran a small trading business.

The 45-year-old said the attackers were Christian militiamen, who broke into people's homes. She ran in one direction with eight of the children while her husband sprinted away with three of their boys for the cover of the bush.

Five days later, Ramatou and her group were found by African Union peace-keepers and eventually made their way across the border, where they have joined more than 80,000 refugees who have fled to Cameroon this year from Central African Republic.

"My oldest son is still in the bush; I don't know where he is," she said, adding: "He is 25 years old. Until now he has not come out. My husband also is somewhere in the bush in CAR [Central African Republic]."

Ramatou still hopes that her husband and son will rejoin them in Cameroon. She knows that while some refugees like herself arrive in convoys organized by the International Support Mission to the Central African Republic, many more hide in the bush for months, eating roots and trying to avoid fighters before crossing the border with Cameroon. These people arrive completely exhausted. Many lose family members on the way, either from hunger, disease or attack.

Moussa, 10, and Ibrahim, 11, did it the hard way before being reunited with Ramatou and their siblings at Mbile camp. They spent four months walking in extreme conditions in the bush. They had hardly anything to eat and they slept rough. On top of all that, they had to run the gauntlet of further militia attacks.

"I saw people being killed in front of us during the attacks," Ibrahim said, adding that during one attack, they became separated from their father and elder brother and had to press on alone. In Gbiti, just across the border from Central African Republic, they were taken in by a host family.

Then, as their only sister, Mairama, explained, they had a bit of luck. She heard that they might be in Gbiti, which is four hours away by bus, and asked UNHCR to help. The refugee agency, which assists unaccompanied minors every day at the border crossing, found the boys and arranged for them to be transported to Mbile.

"I did not know that they were coming. When I saw them, I had a lot of emotion," said Ramatou, who greeted her sons gently, her heart less heavy. "In Gbiti, they did not know anyone," she said, the concern clear in her voice.

''For the past four months I have been feeling unwell, but now I am feeling better, but not totally recovered because my oldest son and my husband are still in the bush," she concluded, while thanking UNHCR for helping to bring back the two missing boys. While her family was partly reunited, many more remain separated by the conflict. They must live in hope of reunion as they contemplate an uncertain future.

By Céline Schmitt in Mbile Refugee Camp, Cameroon



Cameroon: Family Reuniting After EscapePlay video

Cameroon: Family Reuniting After Escape

Violence has torn many families apart in Central African Republic. Some families become separated during the trauma of flight. Ramatou Adjudiwas reunited in Cameroon with two of her sons, who survived four months in the bush.

A Central African Refugee's Reunion With Her Sons Brings Joy and Sorrow

The violence and conflict in the Central African Republic has forced hundreds of thousands of people to flee their homes since mid-December. Many have sought refuge in neighbouring countries, including 80,000 in Cameroon. During the trauma and confusion of flight, families often become separated. They face many dangers on the way to safety, and their journey can take many weeks. Ramatou, a 45-year-old mother of 11 children, was separated from three of her sons and her husband when militiamen attacked her village in January. She ran in one direction with eight children and eventually made it to Cameroon with the help of African Union peace-keepers. Her husband and three sons ran in a different direction and endured many ordeals in the bush, becoming separated again. Earlier this month, Ramatou was reunited in Cameroon's Mbile Refugee Camp with the two youngest boys. She was overjoyed, but dismayed that they were on their own. She still hopes for her husband and eldest son to turn up. Photographer Fred Noy was there at the emotional reunion.

A Central African Refugee's Reunion With Her Sons Brings Joy and Sorrow

Central African Republic: Urgent Appeal

You can help save the lives of thousands of refugees

Donate to this crisis

Young and Struggling with Malnutrition: Child Refugees in Cameroon

Growing numbers of refugees from the Central African Republic have been arriving in Cameroon in a dreadful physical condition after spending weeks or months hiding in the bush, struggling to find food and water, and sleeping out in the open, unable to return to the homes they were forced to flee from. The most vulnerable of these refugees are the children, especially those aged under five years. It is heart-breaking to see these rail thin children, clearly in need of sustenance after living on roots and leaves. An estimated 40 per cent of children arrive suffering from malnutrition and for some the journey proves too much, but UNHCR has been helping to save lives in eastern Cameroon. With Médecins Sans Frontières, the refugee agency supports a nutrition centre in Batouri. MSF sends children there from its overwhelmed health clinic in the border town of Gbiti, where some 20,000 of the 80,000 Central African refugees in Cameroon have arrived. The partners are expanding the capacity of the centre, which treats about 100 children. More arrive daily and UNHCR has set up tents to provide shelter for the children and their mothers. Photographer Frederic Noy last week visited Gbiti and Batouri and captured the following powerful images.

Young and Struggling with Malnutrition: Child Refugees in Cameroon

Batalimo to Batanga and Beyond: Congolese Return Home from CAR

Over the past month, almost 6,300 refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) have left the Batalimo camp in the troubled Central African Republic and returned voluntarily to their homes in Equateur province. Their decision to go back is a further sign of the gravity of the situation in Central African Republic, where escalated violence since December has left hundreds of thousands internally displaced and forced almost 350,000 to flee to neighbouring countries. The refugees at Batalimo were among some 20,000 Congolese who had fled to the Central African Republic to escape inter-ethnic conflict back home. The return operation from Batalimo had been postponed several times for security and logistical reasons, but on April 10 the first convoy headed across the Oubangui River. The last arrived in the DRC on May 10. The UN refugee agency organized transportation of the refugees from Batalimo to the Central African Republic riverside town of Zinga, where they boarded boats for the crossing to Batanga or Libenge in Equateur province. In Batanga, the returnees were registered, provided with documentation and given a cash grant to help them reintegrate. They were then transported to their villages, where they will be monitored. Photographer Leonora Baumann followed one group back to the DRC.

Batalimo to Batanga and Beyond: Congolese Return Home from CAR

Joint Appeal: Help Needed for Central African RefugeesPlay video

Joint Appeal: Help Needed for Central African Refugees

The UN refugee agency and its partners appealed for more donor support to cope with the continuing outflow and deteriorating condition of refugees from the Central African Republic.
Cameroon: A Young Victim of ViolencePlay video

Cameroon: A Young Victim of Violence

Militia attacks on civilians in Central African Republic have left many people, including children, dead or badly injured. Six-year-old Ibrahim is recovering from one such attack, lucky to be alive.
Cameroon:  Malnourished ChildrenPlay video

Cameroon: Malnourished Children

Some 80,000 people from Central African Republic have fled to Cameroon this year, many of them after walking for weeks or months through the bush with almost no food and water. Many of the children have severe malnutrition. UNHCR and its partners are rushing to help them.