Widowed father reunited with children after desperate search in Sicily

Published: 8 December 2015 15:09 CET

By Alessia Lai/Italian Red Cross

 Cries of “baba” rang out across the port of Catania when a rescue ship of refugees saved from the sea docked in Sicily.

Two Syrian children, aged five and six, were desperately calling out for their father who had become separated from them during the recovery mission off the coast of Libya.

More than 400 people had been plucked from the water and divided into three naval ships.  During the chaos, the father had been pulled onto one ship, while the two youngsters had been taken onto another.

Silvia Dizzia, an Italian Red Cross Restoring Family Links (RFL) case worker, said: “When the first ship arrived in Catania, many of the passengers were men – but we soon found that they were fathers and husbands whose family were still at sea.

“One of the men we met was the father of these two children – his wife had been killed in Syria.”

Buses, organized by Italian authorities, collect the rescued migrants and take then onwards to the Italian mainland.  It is at this point that the Red Cross RFL team plays a crucial role – ensuring those separated from their families at sea are not made to leave the port before the next ships arrive.

Dizzia explains: “To increase the distance between separated families even more at this point would cause huge distress and complications so we work with the authorities to make sure this doesn’t happen.”

After a fraught three-hour wait, the father-of-two was finally reunited with his children.

“When their ship docked, the little boy and girl were the first off the boat,” said Dizzia. “They looked around and shouted ‘baba’ before they suddenly saw him. They ran towards him so fast and hugged – it was extremely moving.”

RFL teams in ports help families reunite

The Italian Red Cross has specially trained RFL teams, which include psychologists and translators, on the ground at ports across Sicily.  Their focus is to begin the process of reconnecting people immediately, as well as ensuring they are aware of their rights.

Dizzia said: “We’re committed to helping people find their loved ones on a practical level but we also make sure migrants know their rights – that they are entitled to be with their families along their difficult journey and that right is protected in Italian law.”

The Italian Red Cross has worked on more than 400 family reunion requests across the country this year.  Red Cross and Red Crescent National Societies and the International Committee of the Red Cross also have RFL teams working in every country across the migratory trail.