Published: 07 Mar 2016 16:13 GMT+01:00
Mahdi Rabani was last seen by his parents and siblings on their journey from Turkey to the Greek island of Lesbos one year ago.
The family had been waiting to board boats destined for Lesbos along with dozens of other refugees when Mahdi was lost in the crowd. The family watched as other boats sunk during the crossing and feared the worse.
They returned to Turkey and anxiously searched for him, but did not succeed, eventually heading to Germany.
They were sure he was dead.
“This time was very difficult for us,” said his father, Ibrahim. “How are you supposed to feel, when you lose a child and think he’s dead?”
Mahdi was found in the Canton of Bern, Switzerland where he had been staying with another Afghan family.
“I am very happy and am glad that I can see my parents again,” Mahdi said after landing at Hanover airport.
In an emotional reunion at the airport, his mother Schockria pulled her son close to her as if she might lose him again.
“The feeling is beyond words,” said his mother. “I am so happy and grateful that the Red Cross helped us.”
Help from a stranger
Red Cross worker Rani Hijazi, 27, had embarked on the year-long search to find young Mahdi after one of the boy’s sisters told him at their refugee home about her family’s situation.
“The parents thought he was dead,” said Hijazi, who came along with the Rabanis to greet their missing son.
Hijazi first searched in Germany, then Austria before looking to Switzerland.
“I knew that many people from Afghanistan travel on to Switzerland because the laws for temporary residence are better there.”
Hijazi himself understands how hard it can be as an immigrant in a foreign place. His parents fled Lebanon and he was raised in Holzminden, Lower Saxony.
“It was hard to integrate, but somehow I managed it,” he explained.
“The most important thing is mutual acceptance.”
Mahdi’s family wants him to start attending school as soon as possible, and he also plans to join a football club.
Mahdi one of thousands reported missing
Government figures revealed last month and confirmed by The Local showed that nearly 5,000 refugee children had been reported as missing as of January.
A German Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) spokesperson told The Local at the time that the high number could include cases where a family member moves a child to another place and that sometimes children do show up again.
But the BKA could not rule out that other children become victims of crime.
Europol also reported recently that at least 10,000 refugee children had disappeared across Europe over the past year.