Isha Munya fled war-torn Somalia more than two decades ago; she was faced with the heartbreaking notion of never seeing her loved ones again.
The brutal inter-tribal violence that had broken out across the country scattered her large and close-knit family, forcing Isha to leave her mother Akrabo and one of her daughters, Faduma, then 8, behind.
“My heart was pounding,” Isha recalls of the anguished moment she had to say goodbye. “But it was not a safe place to stay. If we had have stayed, the whole family would have been killed.”
Her departure from Somalia was the beginning of a 19-year separation – a traumatic time of uncertainty as she worried constantly about the welfare of her little girl.
The first eight years were spent in neighbouring Kenya, where Isha, her husband and remaining children lived in four different refugee camps. In 1998 the family was given the opportunity to escape their life of limbo and relocate to Adelaide, in South Australia.
It was in Australia that Isha, determined to unearth the fate of her family members, sought the help of the Red Cross’ Tracing Service, part of the International Red Cross Red Crescent global tracing network.
After discovering that many of her extended family members had died during the war, the Red Cross gave Isha the news she had only dreamed of – Akrabo and Faduma were alive.
Letters and photos were excitedly exchanged and in 2009 Faduma, now almost 30 and with a husband and baby of her own, flew to Adelaide to reunite with her mother.
“When my daughter finally joined me in Adelaide, I felt a huge relief. She was so young when I left her. Today she is married with children. I didn’t recognise her until she called out: “Mum, mum.” She had really changed. I started crying. People at the airport stared at us in surprise.
It was like my daughter had come back from the grave. I was happy but I could not stop crying.”
Four years later, and mother and daughter are making up for lost time.
Faduma now lives in Adelaide, just a few blocks from Isha’s colourful rug-draped home, and the pair spends precious moments together each day.
And while life together away from war and refugee camps has brought immense joy, there is still one person missing from this happy family picture.
For Isha, reuniting with her Kenya-bound mother Akrabo – whom she continues to contact regularly through the Red Cross – is the final key to lasting happiness.
“It’s the last piece of the puzzle,” she says.
Over the last 10 years, the Irish Red Cross has assisted over 300 Somali nationals in Ireland and abroad with requests for tracing and family messaging.
The 30th of August marks the International Day of the Disappeared. It’s the day when we draw attention to the fate of missing people and the lives of their families who cope with the uncertainty of not knowing whether their loved ones are alive or dead.
To learn more about the Irish Red Cross’ role in Restoring Family Links, see www.redcross.ie