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Families separated

"I still don’t know where my parents are": One 12-year-old’s tragic story of separation

As a child, there are few things more frightening than being separated from your parents.

These last few weeks, the world has been shocked by the horrific stories of children being ripped from their parents' arms at the Mexico-US border. US administration’s executive order did not solve the crisis — it leaves children and families in limbo, continues to criminalise asylum-seeking — and could actually extend child detention. The International Rescue Committee supports unaccompanied children who have come to the U.S. seeking safety.

The sad truth is that conflict and violence is tearing families apart around the world.

Children across South Sudan are being separated from their parents due to the conflict.

It’s children that face one of the most traumatic consequences of war. Children like 12-year-old Nyaber from South Sudan, who has no idea where her parents and siblings are.

She was attending school when violence broke out in her village. She fled for safety, the commotion and fear making it impossible for her to locate her family.

Now, she simply has to hope that they are safe. “I hope they live in peace,” she says. “So that one day we’ll be together again.”

I hope they live in peace so that one day we’ll be together again

Despite a peace accord signed in August 2015, violence re-erupted in South Sudan in 2016, tearing through the country and causing food shortages, leaving 100,000 people facing starvation.

Nyaber made it to Ganyliel, a place of relative safety where the IRC has been providing support. She describes the journey there as “terrible”, her parents never far from her mind as she survived off only fruits and water lilies that she found along the way.

37-year-old Nyayian met Nyaber on route to Ganyliel. 

Hearing Nyaber’s story of separation, Nyayian felt compelled to take her into her home and look after her. “She was very sad when I first met her, crying often. She spent every day thinking about her parents,” she says.

She spent every day thinking about her parents

With no way of farming or getting work because of the war, Nyayian struggled to support Nyaber and provide enough food. “Her mood was so low and there was not enough to eat. It was a very difficult time.”

Despite the difficulties she faced, Nyayian was determined to keep supporting Nyaber. In 2017, she was able to provide her with food as part of the IRC’s programme in the area.

The two of them have been living together since. Nyaber now also attends school and has dreams of becoming a doctor.

Nyayian has watched Nyaber become a kind and considerate person. She says: “I want her to get an education and to become independent so she can help others.”

Whether it’s in the US or South Sudan, no child should be forcibly separated from their parents. The IRC is working tirelessly to bring families back together.

The IRC has been one of the largest providers of aid in South Sudan for over 20 years. Since 2014, we have been running a child protection project in Ganyliel with funds from ECHO EU Humanitarian Aid. Our programme provides unaccompanied children like Nyaber with the support they need and works to reunite them with their parents.

The image used in this article is not of anyone featured to protect their identity.