This week in Restoring Family Links 05/16/2016 – 05/20/2016

Sri Lankan military rescuers respond to a landslide in Bulathkohupitiya. Photo Credit: AFP/Getty Images

Sri Lankan military rescuers respond to a landslide in Bulathkohupitiya. Photo Credit: AFP/Getty Images

SRI LANKA: 22 of Sri Lanka’s 26 districts are still recovering from landslides, mudslides, and floods that have been occurring since the beginning of the week. This has led to the displacement of over 350,000 people. The incidents occur frequently during the monsoon season, but due to the El Nino phenomenon, the heavy rains have become more fierce “for so early in the rainy season,” with signs of continuing for weeks. On May 18, two major landslides in the Kegalle disctrict, which is about 75 miles east of the country’s capital, has caused 58 deaths and buried 220 families so far.

The Sri Lankan government has sent troops to the affected areas to rescue people trapped by the landslides. However, it is expected that the death toll will increase significantly as hopes to rescue the trapped individuals dwindle. Following the landslides were torrential rains, which caused tremendous difficulties in rescue missions and created further risks of landslides. Some of the affected places areas are inaccessible, even by helicopters.

The Sri Lanka Red Cross volunteers and staff immediately responded to the landslides in Kegalle district, and coordinated and aided government authorities in rescue and shelter efforts. They have also been providing first aid, food, and psychological support to survivors. In other affected areas, the Sri Lanka Red Cross are also present to assist people in need.

To learn more about the Sri Lanka Red Cross response and how you can support their work, please click here

A dorm in the Vathi hotspot, on Samos island, Greece. At the time of Human Rights Watch’s visit, the facility was severely overcrowded, with significant shortages of basic shelter and filthy, unhygienic conditions. Photo Credit: 2016 Private/Human Rights Watch

A dorm in the Vathi hotspot, on Samos island, Greece. At the time of Human Rights Watch’s visit, the facility was severely overcrowded, with significant shortages of basic shelter and filthy, unhygienic conditions. Photo Credit: 2016 Private/Human Rights Watch

GREECE and IRREGULAR MIGRATION IN EUROPE: Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Doctors without Borders (MSF) have voiced their concerns over the unsanitary, unsafe conditions in Greek “hotspots” centers, which were established for “reception, identification, and processing of asylum seekers and migrants.”

During their visits to Samos, Lesbos, and Chios from May 9 to May 15, HRW found the centers to be severely overcrowded and chaotic, which create a heightened insecure atmosphere within the “razor wire-fenced island camps” for people, especially women and children. There is also no separation between unrelated men and women, as well as prolonged detention. It is reported that the people lack police protection as well. HRW also found that people do not have access to water, quality food, and adequate health care. MSF called for the opening of the “hotspots” with similar reasons, and noted that refugees are treated in a degrading manner.

The United Nations states that the suffering of refugees in these centers is a result of “the absence of long-term vision and the clear lack of political will of the European Union (EU),” and urges the EU state members to step-up in implementing the relocations and reunifications of refugees in a timely manner.

At the same time, the EU-Turkey agreement as well as the border closure in Greece have increased the number of migrants,  who are vulnerable to exploitation by  human traffickers and, who later put force the victims into and put into sex work, forced labor, domestic servitude, and forced begging. For instance, in January, the Europol, the EU’s criminal intelligence agency, reported that about 10,000 unaccompanied children have gone missing after arriving in Europe. It is feared that many of these children have become victims of trafficking.

Ukraine: In search of the missing

Gorlovka, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine. Jelena holds a sheet from the ICRC tracing request that show photos of her missing father. Photo credit: Pieter-Jan De Pue

Gorlovka, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine. Jelena holds a sheet from the ICRC tracing request that show photos of her missing father. Photo credit: Pieter-Jan De Pue

Story and photos by the International Committee of the Red Cross

Checkpoints have become an integral part of life for citizens in the front-line town of Gorlovka, in eastern Ukraine, two years into a conflict that has torn families apart and etched a line through the region, punctured only occasionally by those very same checkpoints.

The checkpoints around Gorlovka, which are manned by the military, must be crossed if one needs to obtain documents, register for social security, visit relatives or simply get hold of necessities that can no longer be found in the east of the country.

The people of Gorlovka have grown accustomed to being searched and their identification documents inspected at every checkpoint. They have also got used to this procedure taking a very long time, and to queuing for hours and sometimes days to be able to cross to the other side.

But it wasn't always this way. At the beginning of the conflict, no-one knew what to expect at the checkpoints and crossing was high risk. Some people never returned.

Vladimir Viktorovich Polegenkiy

Vladimir Viktorovich Polegenkiy was one of those who never came home. His daughter, Jelena, is determined to find out what happened to him.

Gorlovka, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine. Jelena holds up a photo of her missing father. Photo credit: Pieter-Jan De Pue

Gorlovka, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine. Jelena holds up a photo of her missing father. Photo credit: Pieter-Jan De Pue

"My father disappeared on 19 September 2014. He was travelling with a friend from Gorlovka to western Ukraine and had to pass through many checkpoints," says Jelana. "After they passed through the first one successfully, my dad called my mum to tell her that everything went well. Looking back, I realized that it was the last that we heard of him."

She knows that her father made another phone call around 11 o'clock in the evening, not to his family, but to his colleagues in Kharkov, where he was supposed to spend the night. He told them that they were approaching a checkpoint. However, as Jelena later discovered, her father never reached that checkpoint.

"While he was waiting in a queue, four armed men approached my father's car and took him and the other passenger somewhere," says Jelena. She believes that the same people called her mother a day later telling her that she could pay them to get her husband back.

"It was a nightmare," recalls Jelena. "I remember how helpless I felt talking to my mother over the phone, not being able to give her any comfort whatsoever." Jelena had left Gorlovka at the beginning of conflict because of the town's location on the front line. She had to protect her small child and her family.

"My mother remained all alone in the city. Those who took my father called her once more and told her that they were taking my father to the front line to fight with them. The scariest thing was that my father was 51 years old, so he could still serve as a soldier," remembers Jelena.

The search

Jelena is a determined young woman. Energy radiates from her. She is not the kind of person who would sit and wait. Jelena took it upon herself to find her father. She went everywhere and asked everyone she thought could help. She approached the armed forces, hospitals, morgues, even the voluntary organization known as 'Black Tulip' which helps to exhume grave sites. But the answer was nowhere to be found.

Gorlovka, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine. Jelena holds up a photo of her missing father. Photo credit: Pieter-Jan De Pue

Gorlovka, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine. Jelena holds up a photo of her missing father. Photo credit: Pieter-Jan De Pue

She and her husband decided to return to Gorlovka in October last year and continue the search. She published photos of her father on the internet hoping that someone, somewhere might have seen him or might have information on where he was.

Prey to scammers

One reply that Jelena received was not the one she had hoped for: "Someone called asking for 3,000 dollars." They asked her to pay half of the amount immediately and the second half upon return of her father, which Jelena refused to do. "Of course it was a scam," she says. "I had already heard stories of people being cheated like that. It is humiliating to have to endure such things just when you are hurting the most."

During her search, Jelena heard that the ICRC could help find her father, so she shared all the information about her father that could be relevant.

She wanted her father's story to be heard. She wanted it shared. She wanted people to read it. She wanted people to see photos of him.

She wants to know what happened to her father.

Jelena is just one among many whose loved ones have disappeared.

Gorlovka, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine. Jelena holds up a photo of her missing father. Photo credit: Pieter-Jan De Pue

Gorlovka, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine. Jelena holds up a photo of her missing father. Photo credit: Pieter-Jan De Pue

For more stories on the work of the ICRC, please click here

Exiled Aunt Reconnected with Family

Exiled Aunt Reconnected with Family

A photo, worn from years of passing between family members, was all that Margaret had left of her aunt’s, but it was enough to give her hope that one day they would be reconnected. Through the work of the Restoring Family Links program of the Red Cross, that hope has become a reality.

When Margaret was only 12 years old, her aunt Debbie disappeared. She had been going to school in a remote village in Namibia far from where the family lived. The family was distraught with few leads or resources for searching for their loved one. 

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Guatemala Missing: A Decent Burial, A Final Goodbye

Guatemala Missing: A Decent Burial, A Final Goodbye

The armed conflict in Guatemala (1960-1996) left deep marks on survivors and on the relatives of those who died or went missing. Its effects are still being felt today. Many people were forced to flee to other parts of the country or to seek refuge beyond its borders. Several decades later, some of those who left because of the conflict embarked on a long journey home to honor the memory of their loved ones at a ceremony held in Quiquil on January 21, 2016.

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Red Cross Message Brings Good News After Cyclone Winston

Red Cross Message Brings Good News After Cyclone Winston

Two months after Cyclone Winston, Timoci*, a prisoner sitting in Suva Remand Centre, Fiji, was getting worried. He knew there had been deaths from the category 5 cyclone and he had still not heard from any of his family members.

Talking to a visiting International Committee of Red Cross (ICRC) protection delegate, he found out he could write a message to his family about their health and well-being after the cyclone and the Fiji Red Cross Society could hand-deliver it.

One hundred kilometres away, Jone was at home in Tailevu when he answered a knock at the door to find a Fiji Red Cross volunteer. She was holding a piece of paper which she told him was a message from his uncle.

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