Restoring Family Links Public Web Inquiry

The Restoring Family Links program at the American Red Cross is excited to share the newest addition to our enhanced public website: a Web Inquiry Form. The form is an exciting addition which serves as an online resource for our potential clients and community partners by fielding questions about the services provided by the program.

The tutorial video below shares how to access and use the Public Inquiry Form. It is our hope that this new tool will be a valuable resource for the general public and that by providing new resources, such as this inquiry form, we can better help reconnect families separated internationally by conflict, disaster, migration, and other humanitarian emergencies.

Please join us in our efforts to reconnect families by watching and sharing this video!

This Week in Restoring Family Links News

Do you follow @intlfamilylinks (Restoring Family Links’ account) on Twitter? See an interesting article but just don’t have the time to read it? “This Week in RFL News” is a weekly blog segment that highlights and summarizes some of the news items posted by RFL’s twitter.

Migrants: This week, the Restoring Family Links Twitter shared many stories concerning unaccompanied minor migrants in the US as well as migration in general. Many of the stories discussing the current migrant crisis along the border focus on the rise of unaccompanied minor migrants as a phenomenon growing over the past four years. However, the United States has welcomed unaccompanied minor migrants since the opening of Ellis Island’s immigration center in 1892. And in a bit of history repeated, those unaccompanied minor migrants were not welcomed with open arms by the general public, but eventually, they gained US citizenship and have helped create the nation as we know it.

As there continues to be a debate about whether the unaccompanied minor migrants should receive refugee status, we also shared a story highlighting the differences between immigrant and refugee status. One major factor in deciding refugee status is whether the persons fled a conflict. In another story we posted, one journalist goes to Honduras – one of the main countries of origin for the current influx of unaccompanied minors – to investigate and report on the escalated violence there. While funding the response to the crisis continues to stall and decisions on refugee versus migrant status hang in the air, some migrants are already being deported to their country of origin.

And while the United States faces its own unique migration situations, the European Union is also experiencing an increase in migration. Since last year’s Lampedusa shipwreck tragedy where over 360 migrant died, Italy has increased its efforts to save the lives of migrants attempting to reach Europe by sea. Since October 2013, Italy’s Mare Nostrum operation has rescued 50,000 people. The economic burden of this program has led Italy to request that the European Union take over the operation; however, many European leaders have resisted increasing their response to the crisis.

Story Campaign 2014: The Restoring Family Links (RFL) Story Campaign 2014 has come to a close! Over the course of four months, RFL staff and volunteers across the US submitted over forty stories to promote the reconnecting families services of the Red Cross. From successful reconnection stories, to those about the outreach work done by chapters and the volunteers who make it all possible, the stories shared through the campaign do an excellent job of showing the important work of the American Red Cross to reconnect families separated by conflict, disaster, migration, and other humanitarian emergencies. Thank you to everyone who participated in the Story Campaign. I hope that you continue to share your stories with the Restoring Family Links blog and work to support and grow the Restoring Family Links program.

This Week in Restoring Family Links News

Do you follow @intlfamilylinks (Restoring Family Links’ account) on Twitter? See an interesting article but just don’t have the time to read it? “This Week in RFL News” is a weekly blog segment that highlights and summarizes some of the news items posted by RFL’s twitter.

United Nations: The work of the United Nations (UN) spans many topics and fields, including working with populations affected by conflict, disaster, migration, and other humanitarian emergencies. While “This Week in Restoring Family Links News” could probably focus our entire update on the work of the UN, this will share just a few news stories posted on the RFL Twitter this week.

Since the beginning of the Syrian Civil War, the UN has worked to find a solution to the conflict and provide humanitarian assistance to those it has affected. As many of the Palestinian refugees the UN provides assistance to have been trapped in Damascus, the UN continues to appeal to parties of the conflict to allow humanitarian assistance into the refugee camp. They have also worked to ensure that refugees fleeing Syria into Lebanon maintain their refugee status despite new policies the Lebanese government is trying to enforce.

Elsewhere, the UN continues its work to support refugee communities. Two UN bodies, UNICEF and the United Nations World Food Program, have increased assistance to children at risk of malnutrition in South Sudan and the surrounding nations where South Sudanese refugees have fled. It has also advocated for more resources to help refugees from Nigeria and Central African Republic in Cameroon. The head of the UN agency for refugees has also stated that the majority of unaccompanied minor migrants qualifies for refugee status and has urged for the United States to recognize them as such.

Red Cross Movement: From providing drinking water to refugees in Iraq to aiding Ukrainian refugees in Russia, the Red Cross Movement works to ease human plight all over the world. This includes providing psychosocial support for those who have survived conflict and disaster.

Red Cross Red Crescent Societies around the globe also work to ensure that families separated by conflict, disaster, migration, and other humanitarian emergencies can be reconnected, and hopefully, reunited. This includes a volunteer with the Sierra Leone Red Cross reconnecting a mother and son separated by the nation’s civil war. In South Sudan, the ICRC and the South Sudanese Red Cross have increased their efforts to maintain links between separated families. Likewise, the Irish Red Cross was recently able to successfully reunite a family torn apart by conflict in DRC.

Unaccompanied Minors: Over the past couple months, the unaccompanied minor migrant crisis along the US-Mexico border has received a lot of attention in the news.  This week, several news sources have continued to advocate for humanitarian solutions to the issue that account for the vulnerabilities of this population. Many organizations have also called the US to recognize the migrants as refugees because of the conflict situations many of them have fled.

In the US, many organizations have stepped up to provide help to the minors, including a store in Texas hosting a toy drive for the unaccompanied minors. As the US government continues to plan a long-term solution for the crisis, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson is scheduled to visit detention centers along the US-Mexico border to discuss the situation. As funding for the response continues to remain in the air, refugee communities across the US worry that if Congress does not approve the $3.7 billion requested by the Obama administration, that funding for vital programs for refugee communities may be cut.

Web Inquiry Launch: The Restoring Family Links program is excited to announce the launch of our enhanced website! The website includes a public inquiry form that members of the public can use to ask questions about the program, and if their needs meet our requirements, be put in contact with their local Red Cross chapter to initiate a case. To get everyone excited for the launch, the Restoring Family Links Social Engagement team at National Headquarters has made the video below. Enjoy

South Sudan: Coping with the Challenges amid armed Conflict

Lucia Benuzzi, tracing delegate with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Juba, describes the challenges created by the conflict in South Sudan, and how the ICRC and the South Sudan Red Cross try to cope with them while working to restore family links for those separated by the conflict.

In 2013, six branches of the South Sudan Red Cross (SSRC) were working on restoring family links activities around the country. Then, on 15 December, hostilities broke out which reportedly have claimed many lives and displaced hundreds of thousands of people, some taking refuge in neighboring countries such as Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia and Sudan.

After the crisis started, most of the Red Cross activities in the branches located in Jonglei, Unity and Upper Nile states – those most affected by the conflict – were suspended. In these states, SSRC staff and volunteers were themselves affected by the fighting and, along with their families, were amongst the people displaced.

Facing unpredictable and sometimes deteriorating security situations, ICRC staff in some locations had to be relocated temporarily at particular times. Though today they are regularly present in the areas directly affected by the conflict, they have to remain vigilant and adapt to the situation as it evolves.  

Challenging circumstances

ICRC work to put families separated by the conflict in touch with one another became particularly challenging as people were constantly moving, not only because of the conflict, but also due to the upcoming rainy season.

Despite the challenges, which included a total lack of access for humanitarian organizations, a number of meaningful activities were nevertheless carried out by the Red Cross. One such was the phone service organized by the SSRC, in partnership with the ICRC, which benefited many and was greatly appreciated. This service was even extended to remote areas using satellite phones, and became a useful tool to reconnect people with family members not only in South Sudan, but also in neighboring countries such as Uganda and Kenya.

As shown in the video above, overall some 10,000 phone calls were made, helping over 27,000 people reconnect with family members between mid-December 2013 and May 2014. In cases where phone services were unavailable, traditional Red Cross messages remained a good option as a means of contact.  

Playing an important role

Before the crisis began, the SSRC had some 36 local restoring family links volunteers. Within the last four months, with the support of the ICRC, that number has more than doubled. These volunteers, such as Grace Acon (who is featured in the video), play a crucial role in organizing the phone calls as well as in the distribution of Red Cross messages. The recruitment of more volunteers will hopefully allow restoring family links activities to be extended to other parts of the country.

Despite the fact that the SSRC and the ICRC had to relocate from Bentiu, Bor and Malakal, restoring family links services are still being offered in some areas of Unity, Upper Nile, Jonglei and Lakes states, in particular helping internally displaced people.

While the crisis has made it challenging to carry out humanitarian activities, the new set of volunteers being recruited and trained by the SSRC and the ICRC will help build the capacity of the restoring family links program and allow it to be extended, not only across South Sudan, but also with other Red Cross Societies in the region.

Original story published on the ICRC Family Links website here. For more on the work of the ICRC, please click here.

Dallas Texas celebrates World Refugee Day

Story by Alexis Chase, North Texas Region, Metro Area Specialist, Service to Armed Forces and International Services

Alexis Chase with Nanja, an active volunteer within the Burmese community in Dallas

Alexis Chase with Nanja, an active volunteer within the Burmese community in Dallas

One family torn apart by war is too many! These UN refugee agency posters lined the walls of St. Patrick Catholic Church on Saturday June 21, 2014 to highlight the plight and celebrate the courage of the over 50 million people displaced by war last year. This number is the highest since World War II. Catholic Charities of Dallas partners with numerous agencies to commemorate World Refugee Day each year. This year, the American Red Cross was a part of the celebration. Our Restoring Family Links program is a family connecting life line for many of these displaced people.

As children began running through the doors, the scent of food from several different countries filled the air, and music started playing, I was transported from one end of the world to another. There were families from Somalia to Nepal to India and Burma, all joined together through their common bond as refugees. Each person had a story of being forced from their country in order to escape war, persecution or natural disaster, but their spirit, love of family, and hope for the future was alive in the church where we had the freedom to pray in seven different languages and give thanks for new beginnings. It was a celebration of culture with dancing and fellowship. Despite language barriers, personal connections were made throughout the day through interpretation and smiles.

On average the state of Texas accepts the highest number of refugees resettled in the US each year. Statistics for 2012 were 5,907 refugees from ten different countries. Oftentimes, these individuals and families have lost contact with family back home. When this happens, the American Red Cross is able to offer assistance in tracing their loved ones and facilitating communication through Red Cross Messages.

Alexis with three generations of a family from India

Alexis with three generations of a family from India

During the World Refugee Day celebration, the families I spoke to were over joyed with the news that they might be able to reach out and reconnect with a family member so far away. Several Somali boys in their early teens who had just been resettled in Dallas, TX were eager to take the translated information sheet about our services. Though there was a language barrier, their homesickness could be felt. It was an honor to offer them an opportunity to potentially reconnect with their families.

The Restoring Family Links program is a wonderful example of the fundamental principles of the Red Cross movement in action. Humanity, Impartiality, Neutrality, Independence, Voluntary Service, Unity, and Universality – we provide these services freely and without expectation, to obtain the goal of reconnecting separated families, to reassure refugees and many like them that they are not alone in a new country and that contact with their loved ones is more possible than they may think. For North Texas Region staff and volunteers, it is immensely gratifying to fulfill the Red Cross mission and help reconnect families.