By Federico Cornetto
A mum was reunited with her two children after an eight-year separation during which they endured kidnapping, detention and a failed sea crossing.
Kedija, 15, and Yonas, 12, were finally successful in their desperate attempt to rejoin their mother, Semira, in Geneva, Switzerland, after fleeing Eritrea.
In the video – filmed in April 2018 but only released in January 2019 – the two children ran across Geneva International Airport to hug their mother who they hadn’t seen in nearly a decade.
A tearful Semira said: “Despite being separated for more than eight years, I never lost hope of being reunited with my kids again.”
The two children were left in the grandparents’ care in 2010, when Semira was forced to flee persecution at home.
After five years of relative stability, Kedija and Yonas fled Eritrea and crossed the border into Ethiopia, meaning they lost any contact with their mother for several months.
But thanks to Semira’s refusal to give up and the intervention of United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and their NGO partners in Libya, the mother was finally able to locate her children.
Unbeknownst to her, the siblings had been on a harrowing journey.
They had travelled alone through four countries, often without food and water, survived kidnapping and an Ethiopian refugee camp as well as an ill-fated boat to Europe.
In mid-2017, the children and their uncle set off on their perilous and uncertain journey to reach Semira.
The trio battled fierce temperatures, thirst and hunger as they begged rides on trucks and buses across Ethiopia and Sudan, striving to reach the southern shores of the Mediterranean Sea.
Events took a dark turn at the Sudanese-Libyan border, where the group were violently abducted by smugglers, who found out the children’s mother was living in Switzerland and demanded a ransom in order to free them.
Eventually the siblings were unexpectedly released and left to wander lost and alone in the vast Libyan wilderness, but miraculously, they were discovered and taken in by a group of fellow Eritreans.
Semira said: “I spent days and nights praying for them, despite everyone around me losing hope.”
After UNHCR tracked the children down in Libya, the Swiss government agreed to grant them humanitarian visas to join their mother.
UNHCR Senior Protection Assistant, Noor Elshin, said: “This is literally like finding a needle in a haystack.
“Despite having them in front of me, I still couldn’t believe that we’d actually found them.”
There are an estimated 3,800 refugees and asylum seekers currently being held in dozens of official detention centres across Libya, and others falling into the hands of armed groups and human traffickers.