Feature: S. Sudan families reunited after agony of separation linked to civil strife

Source: Xinhua| 2019-04-18 20:47:20|Editor: Xiaoxia
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JUBA, April 18 (Xinhua) -- Achol Uchol is yet to heal from the traumatic experience she suffered after being separated from her three children for about four years after her motherland descended into a spiral of clashes.

Originally from South Sudan's northeastern town of Malakal, an emotional Uchol could not hold her tears while narrating the ordeal and agony she experienced tracing her family since 2015.

The mother of four lost contact with her late mother and three children following an attack in her native village of Kodok while away on a visit to the South Sudanese capital, Juba.

"The years were very difficult to me. I could not sleep. I could not even tell when the week was ending, I was just alone and helpless. I thought my mother and children had died," Uchol told Xinhua during a recent interview.

After three years of relentless search, which took her up to neighboring Uganda, Uchol was finally reunited with her lost children- thanks to efforts by humanitarian agencies.

"My husband left me years back, and the only person helping with the children was my mother, but when we got separated everything got worse because there was no communication. I was always crying all the times," Uchol said.

"So, the reunification in Juba in February 2018 was the happiest moment in my life," she added.

But Uchol's new found happiness was short lived as her ailing mother died just two months after the reunification process was concluded.

"Today, I remain a hopeless woman who is just struggling to raise my children," said the single mother of four.

Five-year civil strife in South Sudan have displaced about four million people and also separated children and families all over the country.

At least 19,000 children are said to have been separated, missing or living on their own without parental care since the outbreak of the conflict in late 2013, according to estimates by the UN children's agency, UNICEF.

Like Uchol, Thomas Mun also lost contact with his three children in 2013 after violence rocked his home town of Bentiu, in northern South Sudan.

For five years, Mun's children lived at the mercy of good Samaritans in a UN protected camp for internally displaced people until 2018 when they were flown to Juba to meet their parents.

"What forced the separation between me and my children was war. For all these years, I was heartbroken and sick because I did not know their whereabouts. I'm happy for the people who helped my children's return," said 63-year-old Mun.

Save the Children and UNICEF said on April 17 that they have successfully reunited 6,000 children with their families after years of separation due to conflict.

Arshad Malik, Interim Country Director for Save the Children, South Sudan, described the occasion as an emotional reunion.

"It was ululation, tears, and songs of happiness. Seeing the happiness in their faces after enduring so much fills us with hope. We won't stop until all separated children are back home," said Malik.

But some 8,000 children in the east African country are still missing or separated and in urgent need of family tracing, the agencies said.

Separated and unaccompanied children are more susceptible to violence, abuse and exploitation, which makes returning them to their parents an urgent priority, the aid groups added.

Mohamed Ag Ayoya, UNICEF representative in South Sudan said family tracing remains difficult due to limited access to roads, mobile and data connection in South Sudan, urging stakeholders to scale up efforts to reunite the remaining children with their families.

"Despite all the difficulties, almost every week we see one or several children brought back to where they belong, namely with their families. This is much thanks to the all family tracing and reunification partners in South Sudan," said Ayoya.

Speaking during an occasion to mark the 6000 reunification in Juba on Wednesday, Manasseh Lomole Waya, head of South Sudan's Relief and Rehabilitation Commission admitted that the country is grappling with high numbers of separated families.

He said a new peace deal signed in September 2018 provides hope for lost children yearning to return to their families.