This Week in Restoring Family Links News 02/21/2015 - 02/27/2015

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.

Refugee Response: This week, we shared a number of stories highlighting the variety of international responses to refugee crises around the globe. Since a terrorist attack in Peshawar, Pakistan last December, there has been a lot of pressure, both unofficial and publicly sanctioned, on Afghan refugees to return home. The United Nations has urged the Pakistan government and public to continue their generous support of Afghan refugees as Afghanistan remains largely unsafe for many to repatriate. In response, the Pakistani government has made assurances that Afghan refugees will remain welcome for as long as they continue to need refuge.

As both a brutal winter and a war continue in Syria, those who have fled the conflict continue to struggle through an ever changing international humanitarian aid landscape. At the end of last year, food aid was temporarily suspended because of a lack of funding. However, organizations including Red Cross Red Crescent National Societies continue to try and alleviate the suffering of those affected by the conflict. The international response has also included nations accepting Syrian refugees for resettlement. While the US has promised to increase the number of refugees it resettles from Syria, domestic fears of terrorism have slowed the acceptance rate. Elsewhere, humanitarian organizations continue to struggle to meet the needs of refugees and the displaced fleeing situations including Boko Haram in Nigeria and conflict in the Central African Republic.

Reconnecting Families: This week, the American Red Cross Los Angeles Region shared some of the great outreach work their International Services team is doing to raise awareness of the reconnecting families services of the Red Cross. This work is a crucial piece of reconnecting families separated by conflict, disaster, migration, and other humanitarian emergencies. In addition to this amazing outreach work, several reconnection stories were shared including a mother’s reunion with her son through the Australian Red Cross and the ICRC’s successful reconnection of a mother and daughter separated by the conflict in CAR. We also shared again the story of a mother and son reconnected via Skype thanks to the ICRC.

Restoring Family Links Story Campaign: This year’s Restoring Family Links Story Campaign begins on March 16th! This is a great opportunity to share the reconnecting families work of the Red Cross as well as stories on outreach, volunteer and staff appreciation, and other topics related to the International Services work of the Red Cross Movement. All stories will be published on the Restoring Family Links Blog, and may also be considered for local and national American Red Cross blogs. For more information on prizes, submission requirements, and deadlines please contact Jon Dillon at jon.dillon@redcross.org

Afghanistan: Family Links Website Reunites Mother and Son

Story by the ICRC

Every year, millions of families become separated by war, disaster, or migration. The Family Links website is one of the tools that the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement created in order to reconnect families. Thanks to this site, Zahra found her son after 8 years of separation. Watch the priceless reaction of a mother able to talk to her son after years of uncertainty.

For more information on the reconnecting families work of the International Committee of the Red Cross, please visit their website by clicking here. Globally, the Red Cross Movement works to alleviate human suffering, including reconnecting families. To learn more about the work of the American Red Cross in these efforts, visit our website at redcross.org/reconnectingfamilies.

This Week in Restoring Family Links News 02/07/2015 - 02/13/2015

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.

South Sudan: This week, I tweeted the following:

Now, I know that I have been guilty of (over) reporting on violence in South Sudan versus focusing on the work of organizations and individuals to fight for peace, but after this week’s ceasefire agreement, I found it especially egregious the number of news stories that immediately jumped on the possibility of its failure. While I think it is important to draw the attention of the international community to on-going crises, I think there is a way to do so without rewarding violence. This stems from the idea that there is such a thing as peace journalism versus war journalism, which can have an effect on conflict management and resolution.

So with that said, I’m going to share some of the positive news coming out of South Sudan. The United Nations Children’s Fund this week celebrated the continued demobilization and release of children from armed groups in South Sudan. While education has been interrupted in many places across the country, ensuring children are not participating in the violence, but rather are learning in school, whether in their own community, a camp for the displaced, or a refugee camp, is vital for helping South Sudan avoid having a “lost” generation.

The Legacy of Holocaust Survivors: As the community of Holocaust survivors becomes fewer, it is as important as ever to share their stories and ensure that the legacies of those who endured the Holocaust live on. Community partnerships and programs across the US and the globe are helping that take place from art and storytelling projects in Minnesota to partnerships between Holocaust education centers and other community organizations in Ohio. Sharing these legacies helps ensure that future generations know about the Holocaust and work to prevent similar atrocities. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights visited the US Holocaust Memorial Museum recently and said that all people “must learn” from this event.

“If we have learned anything from our collective history, it is this: scrambling only for ourselves, our people, our political or religious ideology, or for our own kind will only scramble it all – eventually, sometimes horrifyingly so – for everyone.” – UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein.

The Red Cross continues its support to survivors of the Holocaust and their families by helping to reconnect them with their loved ones or providing them with information on the fate of their family. This week, we shared a story from the Colorado and Wyoming Red Cross where a family was connected to a chapter of a family member’s life they never knew about.

US Immigration Policy and Child Migrants: Since the Obama administration released a proposed budget increasing aid to Central American nations, there has been much debate about how to shape US immigration policy, especially concerning the Central American nations of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. A recent policy change allows children in need of international protection to apply for asylum in the US from their country of origin (Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador only). The proposed budget would increase foreign aid to the three countries to improve border security, law enforcement, judicial processes, education, infrastructure, etc. It would also help bolster programs in which the US is already invested, such as helping vulnerable migrants returned to these countries from the US and Mexico. It is unclear whether the full proposed budget will be passed.

This Week in Restoring Family Links News 01/31/2015 - 02/06/2015

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.

Red Cross Reconnecting Families: Each year, the International Red Cross Movement reconnects thousands of loved ones separated by conflict, disaster, migration, and other humanitarian emergencies. A recent study done by the University of Alberta found that resettled refugees who were able to maintain contact with their family were able to build their own resiliency while adapting to their new lives in Canada. When contact has been lost, the network of Red Cross Red Crescent Societies is there to re-establish that piece of the resiliency puzzle.

And while every Red Cross provides reconnecting family services, each society has developed its strengths, often based upon the populations it serves. Because of the high risk for tsunamis and earthquakes, the Chilean Red Cross is well-prepared to reconnect families separated domestically by natural disaster. In Tanzania, the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Tanzanian Red Cross facilitate communication between families in refugee camps and their loved ones back in their country of origin. And both the Magen David Adom (Red Shield of David) in Israel and the American Red Cross continue to reconnect families separated by the Holocaust and provide them with information on the fate of their loved ones. All this work continues globally to help alleviate the human suffering caused by the loss of family communication.

Displacement in Nigeria: Restoring Family Links is also an important aspect of the work of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Chad, Cameroon, and Niger. Many loved ones have become separated while escaping violence in northeastern Nigeria enacted upon their villages by Boko Haram. Last year, the conflict came to international attention when the group kidnapped 270 schoolgirls (giving rise to Twitter diplomacy or Twiplomacy). While media attention has been pulled elsewhere, however, the conflict continues. This week, the BBC reported on an attack by Boko Haram on the town of Baga earlier this year. Many of the town’s residents fled the village, escaping the violence by wading through Lake Chad and taking shelter on secluded islands. This has been a particular challenge for the humanitarian organizations trying to assist the displaced.

Story from the Holocaust: Red Cross Reconnects Family History

Story by Bill Fortune, Colorado and Wyoming Region, Volunteer

Photos provided by Dawid Kufel

A family patriarch survived WWII concentration camps, became an American citizen and lived a productive life in the United States. His family never knew until the Red Cross discovered his story and helped fill the gaps in the family history.

Corporal Boleslaw Obst, 1939. Photo provided by Dawid Kufel

Corporal Boleslaw Obst, 1939. Photo provided by Dawid Kufel

Warsaw, Poland 1939: Polish Army Corporal Boleslaw Joseph Obst was detained by Nazis and sentenced to Gross-Rosen Concentration Camp. World War II raged on and when the Red Army advanced he was marched to Flossenberg Concentration Camp in Germany. It was there that Obst wrote his last letter to his family. Shortly after that the family was notified that he had died in the concentration camp.

Jump to 2013: Genofewa Tonder, Obst’s daughter, received a death certificate from the state of Virginia stating that Boleslaw Joseph Obst died in 1997 at the age of 85 in Richmond, Va. The family never knew he had survived the war and that he had lived in the United States as an American citizen for more than 50 years.

In April 2013, James Griffith, American Red Cross Restoring Family Links Caseworker, received an email from Dawid Kufel, a foreign exchange student from Poland living in Colorado Springs, Colo. The email told how the family was very surprised to find that their patriarch had actually survived the concentration camps and instead died in Richmond, Va. They had tried unsuccessfully to get additional information and hoped that the Red Cross would be able to help them fill in the missing years. Dawid in particular wanted to learn more about his grandfather.

"The fact that he (Obst) had died here in the United States meant that there had to be some kind of information about him, some kind of outline of his past to fill the gaps,” said Griffith. “It was a puzzle that I felt needed to be put together.”

Dawid Kufel, Grandson kneels at the headstone of his grandfather in Richmond.

Dawid Kufel, Grandson kneels at the
headstone of his grandfather in Richmond.

Griffith found that Obst had been liberated by the U.S. Army 90th Infantry Division April 23, 1945. He then traveled to the United States as a refugee under the International Refugee Organization.

With the help of Richmond Times Dispatch Newspaper archivist Ellen Robertson, they located the grave site and documented that he had worked for more than 30 years as a baker, never remarried and died June 2, 1997, in Richmond, Va.

The family was given the information and in June 2013 Dawid Kufel traveled to Richmond, Va. to visit the grave site of the grandfather he never knew. In an email, Kufel expressed his thanks to the Red Cross. "It gives us a good feeling that we were able to find something about my grandfather’s past,” he said. “It is sad that we didn't have a chance to know him but at least we know what happened.”

When it was all said and done Griffith was able to sit back with some satisfaction knowing that he had brought closure to the family. “It's really sad that neither side of the family knew the other was alive all those years,” he said. “But it's really good that we were able to help bring them a little closer together.”

For more stories from the Red Cross Colorado and Wyoming Region, please visit their blog by clicking here.

For more information about the Restoring Family Links program, please visit our website at www.redcross.org/reconnectingfamilies