Pakistan: South Asia earthquake - ICRC reunites family members

from International Committee of the Red Cross
Published on 29 Dec 2005
It has been nearly three months since a massive earthquake devastated parts of Pakistan and India but even now the ICRC and the Pakistani Red Crescent Society are still trying to reunite families torn apart by the tragedy. The ICRC's Raza Hamdani reports on a recent family reunion.
The moment when 13-year old Sobia was finally reunited with her father, Yaseen, and mother, Rasheeda Bibi, was an emotional occasion. An ICRC helicopter had flown the parents from the town of Abbotabad to the capital, Islamabad, where they were taken straight to a shelter home to see their long lost daughter. With tears running down her face and tightly hugging her daughter, Rasheeda Bibi raised her hands to thank God for having reunited her with Sobia.

The ICRC started its programme to reunite separated families within days of the earthquake that devastated large parts of Pakistan. Working with the Pakistan Red Crescent Society (PRCS), the ICRC visited hospitals in Islamabad and Rawalpindi as well as tent villages and shelter homes to register unaccompanied children.

At the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences ICRC and PRCS staff found a 13-year old unaccompanied girl unable to speak because of a serious head injury suffered in the earthquake. The ICRC team named her "Ayesha" and started the laborious process of trying to establish the whereabouts of her family.

Since Ayesha needed special attention, she was soon transferred to the National Institute of Special Education and later to the Al-Maktoom Shelter Home. As her health began to improve, Ayesha managed to tell ICRC staff, who regularly visited her, the name of her father. However, she was still unable to recall her own name. Finally, on 20 December the girl had recovered sufficiently to remember that her real name was Sobia. Slowly her story began to emerge.

After the quake, an American army helicopter had evacuated unconscious Sobia from the devastated town of Balakot in the North West Frontier province of Pakistan. Meanwhile, her father, Yaseen, and the rest of his family decided to leave Balakot and seek shelter elsewhere in Mansehra district. Yaseen also contacted the ICRC tracing team to ask for help to locate his lost daughter.

As soon as Sobia had recovered sufficiently to remember her name ICRC tracing teams checked all available data and informed her parents that their daughter had been found. On 26 December, Yaseen and Rasheeda Bibi could finally hold their daughter in their arms again.

Yaseen explained that the family had been trying hard to locate the missing child: "We were given a paper chit and asked to search her in Islamabad and Rawalpindi Hospitals. We heard that she was evacuated in a chopper with two rotors." Despite the joyful reunion Yaseen's family continues to grieve the loss of two of Sobia's brothers, Naseem, 18 years old, and Nadeem, only 2, who died in the quake. Yaseen was advised to wait before telling Sobia about the death of her two brothers since she was still in a fragile mental condition. "I lost two sons and accepted it was God's will," said Yaseen. "But losing Sobia while knowing that she is still alive somewhere is something we could not bear."

On 27 December, the family was driven to Gandia in Mansehra district where Sobia's four sisters were already waiting for her.