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A six year search for a family

When gun-wielding militia came hammering at his door, Clement Honda was forced to leave his family behind and run for his life. It would be six years before they would see one another again.

When gun-wielding militia came hammering at his door, Clement Honda was forced to leave his family behind and run for his life. It would be six years before they would see one another again.

Clement was a medic and his life-saving skills made him a wanted man in his war-torn homeland of the Democratic Republic of Congo. His choice-not much of one-was to hide or be killed by the country's warring militia.

For months, the militia would return to the village where Clement had been running a medical clinic. They demanded that Clement's wife Stephania tell them where he had gone. Eventually Stephania, pregnant with their third child, decided she too was not safe.

"They say Clement is giving treatment for the rebels, they were coming to look for Clement so they can kill him," says Stephania. "Six months and they were still coming and I see there was no security for me or my kids."

An unwavering hope

Stephania and her children fled to a refugee camp in neighbouring Tanzania. But she took with her an unwavering hope. Deep down she always believed, despite the war and conflict all around, that one day she would see Clement again.

It would take almost five years and help from both Australian Red Cross' International Tracing Service and its counterpart in Uganda before they would find each other. And it would be almost six years before Stephania and Clement were reunited again - a continent away from where it all began.

With no family or support, life in the Tanzanian refugee camp was hard for Stephania and her children. "I ask everywhere for Clement; I find that he's not there. They say there is another camp in Zimbabwe so I went to see if I could see Clement, but he wasn't there."

The family spent three years in the Zimbabwe camp but no trace was found of Clement. Stephania, who was born in Burundi, was no stranger to refugee camps. She spent her childhood fleeing war and living in camps, first in DR Congo, then Tanzania. "No house, no nothing. It was a very hard life."

The search for safety

Stephania knew she must find safety and a future for her children on her own, so she applied to UNHCR to be resettled as a refugee. "They come and they say you get the visa and you are going to Australia. I didn't know where is Australia-no idea. I was nervous because I don't know where I'm going."

Stephania searched for years for her husband before she learnt about the Australian Red Cross' International Tracing Service.

Stephania and her three children, Grace, Etienne and David, were resettled in Sydney in 2005. She learnt English and worked to make a new home for her children-and all the time she held tight to her faith she would find Clement again. "It was very hard, very hard time. You don't know anyone and you are in new country with three kids. It was very scary for me."

Finding Clement

Through a new friend at a local church, Stephania learnt of Red Cross' tracing service and contacted them for help. "Someone from Red Cross come to see us … and I tell her that story and they say, okay we will help you to find your husband. At least I found someone who can help me to find him, so I feel very good.

"I had heard from relatives that some people from my town were living in a refugee camp in Uganda and I was able to give this important information to Australian Red Cross."

And with this scrap of information, Red Cross staff and volunteers began searching for Clement.

Red Cross followed the trail of clues and two years later found Clement in a refugee camp in Uganda where he was working for Medecins San Frontieres (MSF). He had also been in contact with his local Red Cross for help to search for Stephania and the children.

"They say (to Clement) your family is in Australia. He was surprised and very, very happy to know that we were safe and in Australia. On Christmas Day we received a very special gift: a phone call from Clement. It was the first time he had spoken to our youngest child."

Red Cross' International Tracing Service helps reduce the suffering of families all over the world who have been separated by war, conflict, disaster or migration. Tracing is a free service, set up to help people find lost loved ones, re-establish contact, exchange family news and clarify the fate of the missing.

A family reunited

A year after that memorable Christmas Day phone call, Clement is on a plane to Australia. After almost six years apart, the family is back together.

These days the family has grown to six, with another son, John, born in Australia. With his family safe and reunited, Clement regularly returns to Africa to work with MSF-his skills and knowledge are much in demand. "He likes to help people. He goes to the refugee camp … he's happy to help people."

Their family home is filled with happiness, a precious feeling of safety - and it is complete once again. "Our life now is good. Clement is working in Africa and I'm working with Baptist services. I'm a carer and our kids go to school … we're very happy."

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Photo: Australian Red Cross/Lara Cole.