After her husband was killed, Therese was forced to flee the Ivory Coast and leave her children behind – but now the British Red Cross has helped bring about a very special family reunion.
Therese lived with her husband and five children in the West African country until her husband was killed during the Ivorian civil war in 2004. She recalled: “I left my home because of political problems. I tried to carry on for the children – but then more trouble came and I had to leave.”
Therese first visited the British Red Cross refugee support orientation centre in Portsmouth last year and was granted indefinite leave to remain in the UK shortly afterwards. Throughout her time in the city, the Red Cross has helped her overcome language and cultural barriers, and provided practical assistance – such as advice on dealing with household bills and a donation of household items – to help her settle in a new country.
Reunited at last
And after seven painful years spent separated from her children, the Red Cross also helped Therese organise the travel arrangements for an emotional reunion with her children, and provided emotional support on the day.
When she first fled the country, Therese couldn’t speak to her children because they didn’t have a phone and she didn’t even have a current address for them. It took a year for her to get a letter – and photograph – to them, and gradually she was able to speak to them occasionally.
‘Counting the days’
Shortly before her family arrived, she said: “The youngest was one-year-old when I left – I don’t know if I will recognise them properly. I can’t explain how I feel now, knowing my children will soon be with me. I can’t eat or sleep, I’m just counting the days.”
Therese’s family finally flew in to a snowy British welcome sat Gatwick Airport, London on 20 December. A joyful Therese said: “The British Red Cross has done a lot for me. I’m so happy – it’s too much!”
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