Return, recovery and reunification of the abducted children in Gambella

By Wossen Mulatu

Nyatayin Both, 25, Kuanyluaalthoan kebele, Lare woreda, Gambella Region.
25-year-old Nyatayin with her one year old daughter Nyakoch Gatdet at a temporary shelter for returned children in Gambella. ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2016/Mersha

GAMBELLA, Ethiopia, 25 May 2016 – When the attack on the village came, 25-year-old Nyatayin Both held tightly to two of her children, but the raiders still managed to kidnap the two others amidst the panic and commotion.

“I wish I’d had four hands to hold them and save all of my four children,” she recalled, describing the horrific day in mid-April in Ethiopia’s Gambella region when she lost her 9-year-old daughter and 4-year-old son.

In a raid of unprecedented scale, some 200 people were killed and 146 children were taken by raiders from neighboring South Sudan, widely described as Murle tribesmen. The Ethiopian military and the local Gambella Government have been negotiating for their slow release ever since.

For Nyatayin, it meant a miracle to see the return of her 9-year-old daughter Nyamuoch.

“At first it was just rumors that some of the children had returned, but later we were told by local officials to come and identify our children,” she said. “I was hoping to see mine, when I spotted my daughter among the many children standing in a circle, I was thrilled and praised the Lord and thanked the government for taking action.”

It was a joy tempered by the fact that her other son was still out there and of course the death of so many relatives that day, including her husband. So far 91 children have been recovered.

UNICEF is working closely with the Government of Ethiopia and partners on a response plan which includes reintegration, psychological support, basic health care and nutrition services as well as providing tents and clothing for each child.

Currently, the children are being cared for at a two-storey guest house of the Gambella Regional Government, where Sarah Nyauony Deng is supervising their care.

“When they arrive here, most of them were so silent and isolated themselves, but after some time, they start to socialize with others, play together and become cheerful,” she said. “Most of them also have injuries on their legs from the long walks.”

Nyamuoch Gatdet, 9 years, 1st grade student, Kuanyluaalthoan kebele, Lare woreda, Gambella region.
Nyamuoch Gatdet, 9 years, was one of the 146 children who were abducted from their communities in the Gambella Region ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2016/Mersha

Flashbacks from the forest
Nyamuoch recalls that terrible day she was taken from her village that began at dawn with the sound of shots.

“I was still asleep and suddenly I heard gunfire and ran out of the house. I was filled with fear and anxiety,” she said. “I started running along with many other children and adults but they caught most of us and took us to a forest. Where I was, most of the abducted children were strangers except a boy I recognized from my village.”

Nyamuoch said they were constantly talking to them but none of the children understood a word. “I think they were trying to teach us their language,” she said. “I am so happy to be back to my family. My mother and I cried for a long time with happiness and now she is with me again, I am not scared anymore.”

Reintegration

Working with the president’s office and the Bureau of Women and Children Affairs, UNICEF has drawn upon a detailed action plan for child protection, including identification, documentation, psycho-social first aid and family assessments to facilitate appropriate rehabilitation services during reunification of the children.

Children in Gambella at the Presidential Guest House
Children in Gambella Presidential Guest House after their recovery from abduction ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2016/Tesfaye

“Currently, we are doing a needs assessment to mobilize resources for the abducted children and their families. Some of the children have lost one or both parents, some their cattle and some their huts as it was burned by the Murle,” said Ocher Ocher Obang of the Bureau of Women and Children’s Affairs in Gambella.

In addition, many in the affected communities are afraid to return to their remote villages for fear of renewed attacks by the Murle.

With the return of the rains, the displaced families need land to till, shelter to live in, as well as additional clothing and health care.

As the Ethiopian and South Sudanese governments strengthen their efforts to recover the remaining abducted children, UNICEF calls for the children’s swift and unconditional return to their families.

“I thought they would lock us in the forest forever,” said Nyamuoch. “When I grow up, I only want to do good things for humanity by becoming a teacher or a doctor – I will never forget this incident.”

 

African youth to African leaders: “You must do more to end conflicts in Africa”

Nyabon Guin (female) 3 years, Bilikum Kebele, Lare Woreda Gambella
Nyabon Guin, 3 is happy that she is back and reunified with her family in Gambella, Ethiopia after being abducted by armed men from the neighbouring South Sudan © UNICEF Ethiopia/2016/Mersha

GAMBELLA, Ethiopia/ DAKAR, Senegal/NAIROBI, Kenya, 16 June 2016 – African leaders are not doing enough to stop conflicts in Africa, said two-thirds of the nearly 86,000 youth surveyed in a recent mobile-based poll conducted in nine African countries.

Using a messaging tool called U-Report, the short survey was sent to 1.4 million mobile users in Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Mali, Central African Republic, Senegal, Liberia, Zimbabwe, Cameroon and Guinea, from 18 May to 1 June 2016.

The U-Report users surveyed, who are typically between 15 and 30 years of age, were asked to provide their opinion on conflicts and crises in Africa through short multiple choice questions on their mobile phones.

The findings of the survey will be shared with African leaders on the Day of the African Child, which is marked every year on 16 June by the African Union.

“It is so crucial, and even urgent for the leaders to heed the voices of the youth, if we must silence the guns by 2020, as set in our Agenda 2063. This is flagship project to which the youth must also recognize their role and take their responsibility,” said the African Union Commission Chairperson, Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma.

Key findings:

  • Asked whether African leaders are doing enough to stop conflicts and crises in Africa, two out of three respondents (70 per cent) believe that African leaders are not doing enough.
  • When asked why Africa is more prone to conflict than other regions, 56 per cent of respondents believe that ‘politicians fighting for power’ is the main reason while 19 per cent said ‘inequality’, 17 per cent said ‘poverty’ and 4 per cent said ‘access to food and water’.
  • What can leaders do to stop conflicts? Nearly a quarter of respondents (24 per cent) said a ‘strong economy’ while 20 per cent believe African countries needs to be more independent in their ‘foreign policy’, 19 per cent said investing in ‘good education’, 14 per cent said ‘talk to each other’, 10 per cent said ‘talk to other country’ and 9 per cent said ‘security’.

Humanitarian crises in Africa continue to spill over borders in recent years, with children and families increasingly on the move. More than 1.2 million people face insecurity in the Central African Republic due to a complex humanitarian and protection crisis that has spread to neighbouring countries.

Nearly 1.3 million children have been displaced by violence linked to the Boko Haram insurgency across Cameroon, Chad, the Niger and Nigeria.

Two years into the conflict in South Sudan, nearly 2.4 million people have fled their homes, including 721,000 living as refugees. Burundi is facing a protection crisis that has driven some 265,000 people to flee across borders.

“The lives of millions of children and their families are disrupted, upended or destroyed by conflict every year in Africa,” said Manuel Fontaine, UNICEF’s Regional Director for West and Central Africa. “This survey speaks to every child’s right to be heard and gives African youth an opportunity to express their hopes for the future of their continent.”

U-Report is a social messaging tool available in 23 countries, including 15 African countries, allowing users to respond to polls, report issues and work as positive agents of change on behalf of people in their country. Once someone has joined U-Report, polls and alerts are sent via Direct Message and real-time responses are collected and mapped on a website, where results and ideas are shared back with the community.

For more information on U-Report: https://ureport.in/