Long, dangerous journey ends in reunion for refugee family separated in flight

Telling the Human Story, 8 November 2013

© UNHCR/D.Majak
Seven-year-old Bedewe at the Yida refugee settlement before he was taken by UNHCR to be reunited with his parents at another camp after a long separation.

AJUONG THOK, South Sudan, November 8 (UNHCR) For Majdi Bedewe, doing the best by his son meant risking the chance that he might not see him again.

In February, 2013 the fighting between government and rebel forces, which had displaced tens of thousands in Sudan's South Kordofan state, came to their small village. "There were gunshots all over so I had to flee from home with my family," Majdi recalled. Father, mother and their seven-year-old son Bedewe set off by foot, not sure where they would go and with little in the way of supplies. For the child the journey was exhausting and traumatic.

"I was frightened that we would all die during the journey," said Majdi. "How would my name be remembered if we were all to die?" He decided to send the boy ahead.

He knew his brother, who had fled the fighting earlier, was now living in the Yida refugee settlement across the border in South Sudan. Majdi found a truck driver who agreed to deliver the boy to his uncle in Yida. "I didn't even think about what would happen to my son on his way. I knew that only God could save him."

Majdi and his wife returned to their village, but the continuing conflict had made growing crops too dangerous and hunger eventually forced them to leave their home again. In July, they and more than one thousand other people from South Kordofan crossed into South Sudan, settling in the town of Kodok near the Nile River. They survived by cooking leaves from the surrounding trees before they were discovered and assisted by UNHCR and its partner agencies.

They group was counselled to relocate to the Ajuong Thok camp in a neighbouring state, and some 200 people Majdi and his wife Tomo among them put themselves forward for the move. In September they travelled by ferry for more than 30 hours before boarding trucks for the final leg of the move to Ajuong Thok.

It was at the refugee camp, after more than a year of separation and at the end of a long and arduous journey, that the family was finally reunited. Majdi asked UNHCR staff to try and find their son in the Yida settlement within eight days, Bedewe was back with his parents.

"I am a very lucky man to have made the decision to come to Ajuong Thok," said Majdi. "Words cannot express how grateful I am to UNHCR for helping us to find our child."

The boy's reunion with his mother took place at the camp's medical clinic, where she was being treated for stomach pain. "Seeing my child, who was lost and now is found, who was dead but now is alive, has already restored my strength," said Toma tearfully.

In the camp the family was provided with a plot of land and materials to allow them to build a shelter. Monthly food rations are provided along with other basic services. Like others in the camp, Majdi plans to start a small vegetable patch to supplement the rations they receive. The camp's classroom provides an opportunity to his son that was not available to him. "I was never able to go to school, but here my son will be able to study," said Majdi as he considered the future.

By Dew Sunday Majak in Ajuong Thok, South Sudan