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article imageEnd of a nightmare for Ethiopian refugee mother and child

By Serene ASSIR (AFP)     Dec 9, 2020 in World

It is every parent's worst nightmare: to be separated from their child.

And that is exactly what happened to Otash, an Ethiopian woman now living as a refugee in Sudan.

For a whole month, she knew nothing of the whereabouts of her seven-year-old daughter Shalom.

On November 7, three days after Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's government launched a military operation against the authorities of her native Tigray region, Otash lost sight of her daughter.

"When the shelling and shooting started, I left the house to go find my sister, who is pregnant," says Otash, who used to own a restaurant in her home town of Humer.

"I couldn't find her, so I ran back home. When I got there, I realised Shalom wasn't there any more."

- 'So much shelling' -

"I searched and searched but couldn't find her. I had no choice but to flee, there was so much shelling," Otash tells AFP.

Shalom is all smiles as she is reunited with her mother Otash at a refugee reception centre in neigh...
Shalom is all smiles as she is reunited with her mother Otash at a refugee reception centre in neighbouring Sudan after a whole month apart
Yasuyoshi CHIBA, AFP

Hoping she might find her child among the thousands of Ethiopians fleeing the offensive, she followed them to the border area.

"An older woman from our community was helping people to gather information about missing family members. I was told she might be in Sudan, so I came here," she says.

Two weeks later, she received another call. Shalom had never left Humera at all. She was in the care of a family that stayed behind, and despite the fighting, she was safe and sound.

Otash quickly contacted Haftom Kahsai, a 29-year-old friend and frequent customer of her restaurant back home, asking him whether he could help.

At the time, Haftom was getting ready to cross the Sitet river that separates Ethiopia from Sudan, where he planned to seek refuge.

Some 49,000 Ethiopian refugees have crossed into Sudan, according to the United Nations.

- Together at last -

Haftom said that he then contacted a friend in Humera who owned a motorbike, hoping that he could rescue Shalom and bring her to the border.

Shalom speaks with Haftom Kahsai  the family friend whose help her mother enlisted in finding her an...
Shalom speaks with Haftom Kahsai, the family friend whose help her mother enlisted in finding her and bringing her safely across the border to join her in Sudan
Yasuyoshi CHIBA, AFP

"I waited there, and when Shalom arrived with my friend, I crossed the river with her on a boat," he told AFP at Sudan's Hamdayet reception camp for recently arrived refugees.

"At first, she was crying and afraid," Haftom said, adding that despite the risks they faced, he was "happy to help the little girl."

Finally, on Tuesday, Shalom was reunited with her mother Otash at the camp in Hamdayet.

Behind Otash's smile, her eyes welled up with tears as she stroked her daughter's thick black hair.

She has found her daughter, but her pregnant sister remains missing.

In Shalom's smile, meanwhile, there is nothing but perfect happiness.

"I missed my mother so much, but now I feel great," she says.

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