Children reunite with lost families as Congo conflict rages

Jason Kandeke and his sister Esther got out of the van and rushed into the arms of their crying uncle and grandmother – the children’s first contact with their family since Congolese fighters killed their parents a while ago six years.

Militias attacked their village of Mingele in southeastern Democratic Republic of Congo, an area where militia groups have clashed for years, vying for land and resources.

Jason, now 12, and Esther, 14, both fled to another village where they were taken in. Earlier this year, their caregivers were also killed in another attack.

A friend gave his details to the Red Cross, which managed to locate their uncle, Jean Ilunga Kandeke, hundreds of kilometers away in the town of Manono.

This week, they boarded a plane with dozens of other children and flew to their new home. Neighbors huddled together when they arrived at their new front door.

“I’m really happy to be home with my real family. It was hard losing my parents and now I’m really happy with my uncle. I want to go to school, study, be a normal kid,” Jason said.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said it organized 11 flights between July 6 and July 8 through the provinces of Tanganyika, Haut-Katanga, North Kivu, Kasai Oriental and Kinshasa.

A total of 83 children, aged 5 to 19, were reunited with their loved ones this week, some after years apart.

“This work takes a considerable amount of time, but it is absolutely essential and invaluable, as it allows us to provide answers to people living in anguish,” said Florence Anselmo, head of the ICRC’s Central Tracing Agency.

The number of children separated from their families continues to rise, particularly in North Kivu province where the M23 rebel group has launched a new offensive in recent months, the ICRC said.

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