by John Ost

Searching for Missing Children

In August, 1994, a Bosnian woman living in the Netherlands was desperate to find her thirteen-year-old son left behind in Bosnia. Relatives in Germany suggested she contact Unaccompanied Children in Exile, an international group of social workers and lawyers in Zagreb, Croatia, that tries to reunite children with their families. The first step, though, is finding the children. And often parents, like the woman in the Netherlands, have no idea where their children are.

Unaccompanied Children in Exile has compiled a database on 5,000 children separated from their families. Many of the children living without parents are in Zagreb. Information about them usually comes from Red Cross field agents working the streets. When parents come searching for children, they are asked to provide details, such as the child's last known address, the names and location of any relatives, even the child's nickname. If it's not a name on the database, the information is passed to relief workers.

Ham radio paid off for the mother in the Netherlands. Two months after she called UCE, a radio operator found her son in Gorazde. One year later, she still hasn't seen him. He's trapped in a Serbian army-held war zone. The Red Cross can't get him out.

Two months ago, UCE signed on to the Internet. It expects to use e-mail to complete legal transactions that allow Bosnian children to cross borders. Each country has its own laws governing the entry of child refugees without a guardian. Just as Sarajevo Online briefly opened a window to that city, UCE's e-mail address may soon allow the group to expand its mission by giving it an electronic thread to reunite scattered families.

Copyright © 1995 Discovery Communications, Inc Photos:Jon Jones / Sygma