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close this bookICRC Activities in Rwanda: 1993 - 6 April 2000 (International Committee of the Red Cross , 230 p.)
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View the documentICRC News 00/12 - 6 April 2000

ICRC NEWS N° 43/26 October 1994

RWANDA
25,000 CHILDREN REGISTERED IN ROUND-THE-CLOCK OPERATION

ICRC tracing teams, working in cooperation with other organizations, have so far registered 25,000 children separated from their parents in the Rwandan conflict. At the same time, more that a thousand parents have filed tracing requests with the ICRC in an attempt to find their children.

Fourteen ICRC delegates (in Rwanda, in neighbouring countries and in Nairobi) and over 400 local staff are working hard to process all the registration forms. In Nairobi, where the information is centralized, three teams take turns entering all the details in the database. “It is literally a round-the-clock operation”, explained Olga Villarrubia, ICRC regional tracing coordinator in Nairobi, “the three shifts are working day and night”. For each registered child at least two or three identities have to be taken into account, usually the names of the mother, the father and another close relative so as to increase the child’s chances of being reunited with his or her family. “Since the Cambodian tragedy this is the largest programme for unaccompanied children undertaken by the ICRC”, said Catherine Gendre, tracing coordinator for Rwanda.

All the information registered in Nairobi is made available to the ICRC’s field offices “Soldiers were everywhere, everyone was screaming. It was dark...”. Last May, together with hundreds of other Rwandans, both soldiers and civilians, Ingabele had fled her village before the advance of the Rwandan Patriotic Front, clutching her mother’s skirts. In the general panic the little girl lost her grip and her mother was swept away with the crowd. That terrible moment turned Ingabele, like tens of thousands of other little Rwandans, into an unaccompanied child.

An adult noticed that Ingabele was alone and took her to the Ndosho orphanage. There she was given a plastic bracelet on which her name and a number were scrawled. There were no fewer than 1,458 others in Ndosho alone. The child was registered by the ICRC and later her parents, who had been looking for her, contacted an ICRC office in Rwanda. When a delegate went to the family to tell them that their little girl had been located, the mother clapped her hands in delight.

Registering the child’s identity and contacting the parents in a remote Rwandan valley were only one aspect of the work of the ICRC’s Tracing Agency. When an ICRC car came to the orphanage and the driver went up to Ingabele, the other children knew straight away what was happening. Envious of Ingabele’s good fortune, some tried to frighten her. “The whites will eat you”, they chanted, and Ingabele got scared. It took a lot of patience and persuasion on the part of the delegates to calm her down. Ever so softly they sang her a little song, made up on the spot just for her.

Ingabele was driven by the ICRC to the border and then to Ruhengeri, sixty kilometres into Rwanda, where her parents were waiting. It was two o’clock in the afternoon and they were all there, from the family’s youngest baby to Ingabele’s grandmother. They had been looking down the road anxiously since early morning. Clutching her mother’s skirts once again, Ingabele said nothing. She just cried.

Further information: Josunseimo, ICRC Kigali
Tel. ++ 250 72 781