Story by the Portuguese Red CrossWhen Suzan* fled Sierra Leone trying to escape from female genital mutilation she was separated from her five-year old daughter, Lucy*. With the support of the Portuguese Red Cross and the Family Links Network, Lucy was found and mother and daughter are now finally reunited.
Badly bruised, covered in blood and on the run from female genital mutilation, Suzan did not see any other option than to accept the help from a stranger on the street in her home country of Sierra Leone. “I will help you escape this area”, he said and this way Suzan fled from Freetown to Casablanca and eventually to Lisbon, Portugal.
Lucy in her new home with her Red Cross teddy bear
that was given to her on a follow-up visit by the
Portuguese Red Cross three days after being reunited
with her mother.
© Portugese Red Cross
Suzan was severely affected at the time she arrived in Portugal in 2011 and could not even remember her daughter. Once she was a little better she began to wonder about her daughter’s whereabouts and wellbeing. The pain and thoughts were unbearable: “I was very stressed and frustrated. I could not sleep at night because I was thinking about her constantly” says Suzan, painfully remembering that period.
Suzan was being helped by the Portuguese Refugee Council and her case worker told her about the Restoring Family Links (RFL) service of the Portuguese Red Cross. Suzan was amazed. She knew about the Red Cross in Sierra Leone, but she was unaware that the organization is global and is also present in Portugal. Thanks to the close cooperation between the Portuguese Red Cross and the Portuguese Council for Refugees, Suzan’s case was immediately referred to the RFL services.
Diana Araújo, coordinator of the RFL service in the Portuguese Red Cross, stresses the importance of working with partners in Portugal to make the RFL services known to potential beneficiaries. “Since 2005 the Portuguese Red Cross is part of a national network with the NGOs, government authorities and other organizations that work with refugees and asylum seekers. It has been a priority to ensure that our RFL services are well known by all so they can refer their beneficiaries to us when needed”, she mentions.
“I gave all the relevant information in order to let them find my baby.” Says Suzan. “I gave the names of my baby and my aunt and also my aunt’s address. I always remembered the address.” In November 2011 her tracing request was forwarded to the Sierra Leone Red Cross and Suzan waited anxiously. Four months passed before there was a positive response from Sierra Leone Red Cross. Once Suzan was informed she had no doubts: “I knew that the Red Cross is the one who finds people who are separated from their relatives. I knew that”, says Suzan.
A Red Cross message from Suzan’s aunt, who had been taking care of Lucy since she left, was delivered alongside the good news that Lucy had been found. “I read the letter sent to me from the Red Cross of Sierra Leone telling me my daughter stayed with my aunt, that she was fine and my aunt put a telephone number on the letter. I spoke with my daughter that same day and happiness returned to my life.”
Finally, in July 2013 Suzan was reunited with her daughter in Portugal and her whole world changed. It had been a tough journey, but now she has hope for the future: “I know that my life is changing now. I’m so happy with everything.” Suzan says.
Suzan is convinced that without the help of the Red Cross Family Links Network she would not be with her daughter today: “I did not have any contact with anyone in Sierra Leone until the Red Cross found my daughter. I’m so happy!” she says with a big smile on her face.
Lucy started school in September and is adapting well to her new host country.
*Names changed for the protection of the mother and child.
Diana Araújo and Louise Heller
Portuguese Red Cross/RFL