Children mill around as a storm brews over the Bidi Bidi refugee camp in northern Uganda, which is home to 280,000 refugees from South Sudan, more than half of them children (Credit Tommy Trenchard)
Until their parents have been located, unaccompanied children live with foster families in the camps. Some are connected by charitable organizations, such as World Vision, which runs a database of potential foster caregivers, who must be matched by ethnicity and language with the child. Other children live with families they encountered on the road, or at reception areas near the border. Extended families and clans try to fill the gap.
Florence Knight, 14, was one of six unaccompanied children taken in by a passing refugee family who found them hiding by the roadside near the burning remains of the truck that had taken them toward the border. The vehicle had been ambushed and most of its occupants killed.
“They’re like my own children now,” said Ms. Knight’s new foster mother, Betty Leila, 32, who now has 13 children, stepchildren or foster children. Many cry at night because of bad dreams.
A few blocks away, another teenage girl, Betty Abau, is living with a family who found her crying and alone beside a river on their journey to the Ugandan border. She looked down at the floor, wringing her hands as she talked. She had been at school when violence erupted and forced her to flee without her parents.
“I don’t know if they are alive or dead,” said Ms. Abau.
She said she had provided all the details she could recall to a tracing officer over a year ago, but had received any updates. According to Lilias Diria, 32, Betty’s new foster mother, she is one of six unaccompanied children living just in this cluster of half a dozen homes.
The breakthrough in the Abu brothers’ case finally came after a tip from a man who had recognized one of their relatives in the Palorinya camp, a scattered settlement of 180,000 refugees. Red Cross representatives asked the prime minister’s office — which oversees the refugee program in partnership with the United Nations refugee agency — to run a check for their mother. The search revealed nine people with similar names. A Red Cross tracer then set out to locate each woman, one by one, and found the correct Raida Ijo on the fifth attempt.
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