This Week in Restoring Family Links News

Unaccompanied Minor Migrants: Last week, we shared a story highlighting the history of unaccompanied minor migrants in the US. This week, we shared a great story focusing on just a piece of that history – the influx of unaccompanied minor migrants who came to the US from Cuba after Fidel Castro came to power. The historical context for this topic is important to keep in mind as the debate in both the American public and in Congress for addressing the crisis continues. An important piece of that debate is whether to change a law requiring the US to provide immigration hearings for unaccompanied minors coming from countries without contiguous borders with the United States (i.e. Mexico or Canada). Advocacy groups are warning that changing the law would put already vulnerable youth at risk of being sent back to dangerous situations when many of them could be approved as asylum seekers.

Also this week, border patrol reported that they have witnessed a significant drop in the number of unaccompanied minor migrants over the past two weeks, from last month’s daily average of 300 youth a day to last week’s low of 80 a day. Throughout the crisis, the Catholic Church has advocated for responding humanely. This past week, several priests in southern California held a Mass to honor immigrants and continue to draw the public’s attention to the crisis. The latest developments to the unaccompanied minor migrant crisis can be found on the Migration Policy Institute’s website, here.

Refugees – Central African Republic and Burma: This week, rebels in the Central African Republic (CAR) signed a ceasefire, hopefully bringing an end to violence that has forced hundreds of thousands of civilians to flee their homes. If the conflict is brought to an end, those seeking refuge in Cameroon and Chad may be able to return home. Until then, the United Nations has urged donors to increase funding for the crisis as many of the institutions in Cameroon and Chad are ill-equipped to provide services needed by the refugee populations. A report released this week looks at displacement across the Central African region and how humanitarian responses to these crises can be improved.

Moving half-way around the world to Burma, the Restoring Family Links Blog shared a successful family reconnection story this week. With the help of the ICRC, the American Red Cross was able to reunite a family of refugees from Burma. This comes at a time when the status of Burmese refugees along the Thai-Burma border is quite precarious. Thai officials continue to threaten repatriation despite warnings from the UNHCR that Burma is not yet ready for the return of these refugees, in part because of land mines and unmarked minefields that remain from the conflict, but also because of lingering ethnic tensions that could be exacerbated by the arrival of refugees, some of which have not been back to Burma for three decades.

Restoring Family Links Web Inquiry: Last but not least, remember that the Restoring Family Links Web Inquiry Form is live! This week, the Restoring Family Links Blog posted an instructional video showing how the form can be accessed and used. The video can also be found on YouTube. Please share the form and video to help expand the reach of the Restoring Family Links program!

From Burma, with Love

Story by Edith Buffalohead, Central New York Region, Service to the Armed Forces and International Services Manager

Sahasa with her family in Syracuse, New York

Sahasa with her family in Syracuse, New York

When conflict separates family, the journey to reconnect, and one day reunite, is often filled with twists and turns, hope and despair, miles and years. When this separation happens across international borders, Red Cross Red Crescent organization works to relink loved ones. Recently, the American Red Cross and International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) helped one family navigate this journey and reunite in Syracuse, New York.

In the spring of 2013 while living in a refugee camp in Thailand, Sahasa Khatun, sought the assistance of the ICRC to locate her parents.  She had been separated from them in 1989 when they decided to cross the border into Thailand to avoid the persecution in Burma.  They took her infant sister and fully intended to come back and retrieve Sahasa from her grandmother’s care. 

However, the family was never able to return and reunify the family.  When the time came for the family’s return to Burma, they found the trip terrifying and life threatening. Sahasa’s mother, Nur Jahan, attempted the journey several times. During her last attempt in 1994, Burmese soldiers captured her. They threatened her, saying that she could not return, that Muslims were no longer allowed in Burma, and that if she continued to try and cross the border, she and her entire family would be killed.

The family moved to another village in Thailand and continued to receive sporadic news about Sahasa. They learned that Sahasa lost her grandmother, was treated poorly by an uncle, and was married off to a distant cousin. Further news was difficult to come by and the family went years without further updates.

In 2007, the Thai government issued a decree: any persons living in Thailand without valid Thai identification must enter into refugee camps organized by the United Nations. Nur and her family were ordered to leave their home and forced to relocate to the No Po Refugee Camp. While there, Nur and her husband separated, leading to further hardship for her. But she continued to provide for her children, and after a year and eight months, they were resettled in the United States. They arrived in Indiana only to find that they had more friends in Syracuse, New York.

Sahasa and her mother, Nur, reunited after twenty-two years of separation.

Sahasa and her mother, Nur, reunited after twenty-two years of separation.

Meanwhile, Sahasa and her family were forced to flee to a camp in Thailand and lost contact with anyone who knew of her whereabouts or wellbeing. Her husband was arrested and detained.  Left with her four children to care for, Sahasa turned to the ICRC for assistance. 

She initiated tracing requests for both of her parents.  Sahasa’s father was located in another camp with a new family and they made plans to reunite.  Tragically, he died the day of the reunion. 

During this same period, the ICRC traced her mother to Indiana and then to Syracuse.  After many attempts Nur was located by staff and volunteers with the Restoring Family Links program in Central New York. They were able to give her the first communication she had with her daughter in 22 years. 

The same week that the Red Cross message was delivered to Nur, Sahasa called her mother because her father had left behind a telephone number to reach her sisters. Nur and her daughters were able to send photos and documents back through the Red Cross. 

Contact was sporadic because Sahasa was moved to other camps in Bangladesh and then back to Thailand. During this time RFL workers in Syracuse continued to meet with Nur and her daughters and attempted to set up a video conferencing call through the ICRC. Happily Sahasa’s husband was released from prison and the whole family was given permission to resettle with family here in the United States. 

At the end of April, Sahasa, her husband, and their four children arrived in Syracuse.  Without the assistance of Red Cross staff and volunteers around the globe Sahasa would never have reunited with her father in Thailand, much less reunited with her mother and sister, met a sister she never knew about, nor could she have found a safe haven for her husband and four children here in Syracuse.

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