Emotions flare as families reunite with ‘lost’ loved ones
She for seven years endured the grim consequences of losing her husband in a gruesome war. Her attempt to heal from this heartbreak fell short because her precious daughters were plucked from her custody, denying her the privilege of mother-daughter love. But all this is now history.
“I give thanks to God who cares for his people. I had already given up the hope that I would see my daughters. I thought they were killed together with their father. But God protected their lives and mine,” these were the words of 45-year-old Veronica Wicyok who had the luck to be part of the 21 families who had their kins retrieved this year, after long separation in the aftermath of civil war thanks to efforts by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
“Today we are together. My hearts have peace now,” she added as she fought her emotions to speak to a scrum of journalists in Juba. On her face were patches of dried tears she shed as she recalled a successful reunion with her daughters.
Wicyok revealed she initially thought her two daughters were no more after receiving the news about her husband’s death in the fierce fights that gripped Bentiu from 2014 to 2015.
It was like a dreamland for Wicyok that she would once again meet her daughters after years of solitude. The last time they were together, the elder one was seven years while the younger one was five.
Wicyok recalled how she had brought her sick sister to Juba for medical treatment when the war broke out and made it difficult for her to return home. Unfortunately, her sister’s health deteriorated and she passed on in 2014, leaving her alone without any support.
When the situation deteriorated in early 2014, Wicyok sought refuge at the United Nations Mission in South Sudan’s (UNMISS) Protection Site of Civilian (PoCs) where she would learn about ICRC’s family tracing program.
In 2017, Wicyok informed the ICRC about her plight, and last month her daughters were brought to her in the PoCs where they are now living together.
Despite the joy, Wicyok is worried about the future after the reunion because there is no one to provide support and pay the school fees for the children.
“I thank the Red Cross for bringing to me my daughters. I am happy now, but when thinking of our wellbeing in the future; it gives me another thinking that [had their father been alive] he would have supported her daughters in school. What am going to do? It is another challenge,” said Wicyok.
She is worried by the volatility which brings insecurity fears back to her village.
“I don’t know how our life is going to be here in Juba. There is no peace yet for us to go and settle at home. Though I cannot lose hope. I believe God will make it possible for me with only two daughters to live in peace once again.”
This year alone, the ICRC has reunited about 21 South Sudanese with their families who were separated due to violence, forced displacement, natural disaster, and migration.
According to the organization, nearly 5,300 missing South Sudanese whose families have been waiting for years of agony with little or no news about the fate of their loved ones since the country gained independence in 2011.
Gordon Bithow, 68, has neither seen nor heard about his children since they were separated about 17 years ago in the Blue Nile region because of war.
Bithow, a South Sudanese can be summed up as a wounded person with little hope left in the heart. He narrated that what stresses him and could lead to his death is the agony of missing his children whom he said would have helped him in his suffering as a wounded person.
“I cannot endure the pain anymore. I don’t have anyone to support. My children would have been the ones fetching water, and washing my clothes,” said Bithow, as he proceed, “Yes, the Red Cross is helping me, they are the ones who treat me. For how long are they going to continue doing all these things for me? I have not seen my children since 2003, no information about them. My hearts are not at peace.”
He decried neglect from the government saying he had seen little done by the authorities to address his welfare.
“The government [which] brought me here where I got wounded, cannot think about someone like me again because I became ‘useless’. Why not just help me see my children if they are still alive?” he said.
He then expressed optimism about seeing his two sons and daughter as he requested humanitarian agencies to assist him with capital to start up a small-scale business in anticipation of receiving his family.
“If I could have the capital for starting a small business, this could help me because I am powerless and no one is supporting me. This is what I would want the organizations to provide us with such [so] that someone like me should [not] entirely depend on help. What if my children come tomorrow or anytime, what will they do?”