The Lost Boys: Chris

Author: Flavia Giordani | Editors: Tijs Magagi Hoornaert & Olivia Headon | Photos: S. Desjardins | Date: 12 June 2017
Chris is back with his family and no longer alone in a foreign country. 
Photo: S. Desjardins/UN Migration Agency (IOM) 2017

If you walk around any city in West Africa, you will see children alone, without parents. Some are working, some are begging, some want to study and some are just lost. Often, these children have come from other countries in the region that left their home in search of something better — an education, a dream.

In October 2015, UNHCR contacted the UN Migration Agency (IOM) in Mauritania to report the case of a young Liberian man that needed assistance to return home.

Chris* was severely traumatized when he first came to IOM’s attention. He breathed with difficulty and spoke very little. After sometime, he started opening up and telling us his story, explaining his needs. Although he looks older, Chris is only 12 years old. Since coming to IOM less than a month ago, Chris has learned to read. Now, his dream is to go to university.

Chris’s father died from Ebola. With his mother, his younger brother and his mother’s friend, Chris left Liberia in search of better living conditions. When they arrived in Mauritania, his mother’s friend tried to force her into prostitution. He told them that this was the fastest way for her to raise finances for her children’s education. When she refused,the friend threatened her, forcing her to escape and leave Chris behind. The only solace that she found was the thought that the man might take Chris to Europe, where he could have a chance at a different life.

“I didn’t want to go to Europe. I saw on BBC that many men died in the Mediterranean. I didn’t want to die there,”explained Chris.

“I’ve been living alone for a long time. I now know how to take care of myself. I just need your help to go to school because if you help me I will become president. I will make my country a better place.”

Chris’s mother is overjoyed to have reunited with her son. 
Photo: S. Desjardins/UN Migration Agency (IOM) 2017

Chris felt lost. The so-called ‘friend’ of his mother brought him to Nouakchott, the capital and largest city of Mauritania, and left him there. His luck turned, when he managed to find a place to live in Nouakchott. However, the conditions would not allow him to fulfill his dreams. His luck turned for a second time when IOM found him, who are helping him up to today.

After some months of research, and with the support of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), IOM found his mother. She was in another city in Mauritania and had given birth to a baby girl in the meantime. Now that the family are back together, IOM will help them return to Liberia and start over.

IOM helps unaccompanied migrant children to find their families, go back home and enter the formal educational system. The Organization also helps their families build businesses, allowing them strengthen their resilience and improve the living conditions of the household.

Many of children migrating on their own are seeking education. Some, unfortunately,find themselves in a very different situation from what they sought, living under extremely harsh conditions.

IOM and its partners, in collaboration with the Government, support and assist these children ensuring their safety during their stay in Mauritania, while looking for their family and then supporting them get back home.

*all names have been changed to protect the identity of the people involved