Finding Hope: Somali Cousins Reconnect After 17 Years Apart
Jan 15 15

Zahra Ahmed, a Somali refugee, was reconnected with her cousin through the REFUNITE platform after 17 years apart.

Before the civil war broke out in Somalia in 1991, Zahra and Abdi were your typical lively children. They went to madrasa (Islamic school), played and spent a lot of time together. Their mothers were sisters who lived in the same neighbourhood in Baidoa, a town in the south-central Bay area of Somalia, 250km from the national capital Mogadishu.

The civil war in Somalia erupted following the downfall of President Siad Barre in 1991, leading to more than two decades of conflict. According to Refugees International 2013 data, there are more than 1.1 million internally displaced Somalis and nearly one million refugees living in neighbouring countries, such as Kenya, Ethiopia, and Yemen. Decades of fighting and the absence of a formal government rendered the country incapable of dealing with natural disasters; consequently, the 1992 and 2010 drought caused the deaths of more than half a million Somalis.

The fighting persisted and life amid the civil war became unbearable. In 1997, Zahra and her family escaped to a neighbouring village while her cousin Abdi and his family sought refuge in Kenya. The two families diverging choice of location for safety would lead to 17 years of separation. The cousins lost contact with each other and the ongoing civil war made it impossible to get updates on missing relatives. Neither one knew of the other’s fate. Did Abdi and his family make it to Kenya? Did Zahra and her family survive the war? They had no way of knowing. They could only hope for each other’s safety.

As the conditions in Somalia continued to deteriorate and the fighting worsened, Zahra and her family also had to flee the country. They made their way on foot and onboard transport trucks into neighbouring Kenya. They were received at the Kakuma refugee camp where Zahra learned of REFUNITE’s family reconnection service through a Mobile Outreach Volunteer named Faiza in late 2013.

REFUNITE’s mobile outreach programme in Kakuma Refugee Camp began in April 2013 in partnership with the Kenya Red Cross Society. The programme was established to help refugees living in Kakuma find their missing friends and relatives.

Kakuma refugee camp is located in Turkana County of the north-western region of Kenya. It was established in 1992 and is home to more than 180,000 refugees from Somalia, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Uganda, and Rwanda.

Using a low-tech mobile phone, Faiza helped Zahra register on the REFUNITE platform, setting her off on the journey to find her missing relatives. In earnest, Zahra began the search for her cousin’s family and her missing sister. Less than a year after Zahra registered on REFUNITE, she was able to establish and confirm reconnection with her cousin Abdi who is now living in America.

In total, 14 people were reconnected through Zahra and Abdi’s contact (Zahra, her husband and 5 children; and Abdi, his parents and 4 siblings). Zahra was overjoyed to learn of her cousin’s safety and to re-establish a relationship with them. They speak on the phone regularly and Zahra hopes to receive some assistance from them in future.

Zahra is still looking for her missing sister and is hopeful that one day she will find her through the REFUNITE platform.

By Kalson Abdi


*For security reasons, all names have been changed to protect the interviewees.

The above interview was initiated by Angelina N. Ndung’u of REFUNITE and took place on December 16, 2014 in Kakuma Refugee Camp, Kenya. It was conducted in the Somali language with translation support from Faiza Mohamed, an Outreach Volunteer.


Kalson Abdi, Campaign and Partnership Specialist, REFUNITE (

Hundreds of families are reconnected through our work every month, often after years of searching for their missing loved ones.
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