From where I stand: “It is our right to know the fate of our loved ones who disappeared”


Nada*, 58, a Palestinian mother of two was born in Lebanon in 1963. Her husband disappeared during the Lebanese civil war, and since then she has struggled both mentally, physically and legally with his absence. In 2020, Nada sought out psychological services and found them through the Lebanese NGO, RESTART, supported by UN Women. They have helped her to deal with the past and have some hope for the future.

Illustration: Lauren Rooney


It was 1982, at 9:00 AM. My husband and I, along with our four-month-old son Mahmoud, were at my in-laws’ house in Sabra refugee camp. A group of men started calling out on loudspeakers, calling for people to leave their houses so they could search them for militia members. We were escorted out of the house to an area a few minutes away. It all happened so fast, but I recall a car speeding toward us, and screeching to a halt. Within seconds, my husband had been put in the car and taken away. That was the last day I ever saw him.  

I was in complete shock. What followed was a blur. Whispers and rumours circulated about his disappearance. This happened right after the Sabra and Shatila massacre and people speculated that his kidnapping was related to that. Some people told us the kidnappers were affiliated to a specific group, others claimed they were affiliated to another. 

In the beginning, I had hope that he would come back quickly. But days went by, and days turned to weeks, and weeks turned to years, and years into almost a lifetime. 

For 22 years, I have gone to the police station, every six months, to file a report stating that my husband is still missing – and from them I get a piece of paper confirming this. This painstaking process has allowed me to sustain a life for my children, as it allowed us to obtain food assistance, which is only provided to families with similar cases. This assistance stopped 10 years ago when my children were old enough to begin working.

I didn’t remarry, and I raised my two sons by myself. My children never knew their father. When they were growing up, they constantly asked me, “everybody has a dad; why do we not have one?” As they grew older, I shared with them the truth about his disappearance. But I was unable to answer their questions about where he was now and why he does not have a grave.  

My husband’s kidnapping has severely impacted all of us. I have suffered from depression and mood swings, which has resulted in other medical issues such as high blood pressure. A few years ago, I began taking antidepressants. 

Last year, I found out about the psychological support RESTART was offering. I was not in a good place mentally, so I registered and began having one-on-one sessions with one of the specialists. I attended at least 20 sessions over one year. We talked about everything that was causing me stress, from my personal painful past to the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic crisis.  For the first time, I was able to talk about things that were haunting me. These sessions were life changing.

Over the years, I met many women who had similar experiences. Many of us began joining the Committee of the Families of the Kidnapped and Disappeared in Lebanon1. We meet regularly to keep the issue of the kidnapped and disappeared alive and not forgotten. 

It is our right to uncover the fate of our loved ones. Dead people are dead; we can grieve them and visit their graves. But missing persons are somehow lost, and we continue to search for them. My husband has been missing since 1982, but we have not forgotten him; that would be impossible.”

*Note: The name has been changed to protect the identity of the woman.

Nada* is one of 129 women receiving psychosocial support sessions provided by RESTART Center, supported under a UN Women, UNDP and OHCHR project titled, “Dealing with the Past”. The project is generously funded by the United Nations Peacebuilding Fund (PBF).

1 The Committee of the Families of the Kidnapped and Disappeared in Lebanon is a grouping of the families of those who were kidnapped and were forcefully made to disappear during the Lebanese Civil War, the committee started working in 1982.