This Week in Restoring Family Links News 11/8/2014-11/14/2014

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.

Refugees in the US: Every year, the United States resettles thousands of refugees from around the world, providing them the chance to establish roots in communities across the country. While each refugee and refugee population is different, they all have similar needs: housing, employment, education, reconnecting with family. The move from one culture to another can also be a shocking experience. The video “Culture Shock, Sudanese Refugees Coming to America” was filmed in 2011, but has recently resurged through social media in the US and abroad. While the struggles the refugees featured in the film may pale in comparison to the conflicts they fled, the video highlights the serious issues many refugees face when trying to acclimate and become a part of their new country.

This opening segment isn’t all Debbie Downer though. Every week, stories from across the US are published highlighting the work of communities to support their local refugees. From the Chaldean Community Foundation’s work to meet the needs of Detroit’s growing Iraqi population to a university in Omaha sponsoring a health clinic to ensure their refugee communities are prepared for flu season, cities across the US continue to embrace resettled refugees with open arms. Many refugee communities also receive a warm welcome from church congregations. Two stories from Pennsylvania this week highlight the efforts of churches in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia to support refugees from Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

As the Thanksgiving holiday approaches, many resettlement organizations are celebrating recently resettled refugees’ first Thanksgiving. These are often a great chance to volunteer and get started helping support your local community. For more information on how you can get involved, contact your local refugee resettlement organization.

US Migration – Children and Families: Given my personal interest in sexual and gender minority rights, I was very excited to stumble upon this piece about LGBT unaccompanied child migrants. The story follows the journey of Jefferson* from his home town in El Salvador to a shelter for migrant children in Mexico City. While all children attempting the migration from Central America to the US are vulnerable to exploitation, human rights advocates have said that the countries of the Northern Triangle have some of the highest rates of anti-LGBT violence in the Americas, making the trek especially difficult for sexual and gender minorities. Luckily, Mexico provides some protections for LGBT persons and Jefferson has been granted a visa. However, he still hopes to travel to the US where there is less violence against LGBT persons and more legal protections.

In other migration news, this week leaders from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras will come to the US to meet with Vice President Joe Biden to discuss addressing the root causes of child migration. While the number of unaccompanied child migrants has slowed in recent months, it is expected to increase again in the coming months. This has led the US to create more detention centers for women and children despite advocate warnings that such facilities tend to be rife with abuse and neglect. Elsewhere, stories from communities across the US continue to feature the lives of unaccompanied child migrants now that they are reunited with family or other sponsors as they prepare for their immigration hearings.

Lastly, please check out the Connected Walls project, which features documentaries from around the world on the barriers that separate communities and families. There is an especially moving piece about two brothers separated by the US-Mexico border wall.

*pseudonym used to protect identity

Red Cross helps Restore Family Connection

Story by American Red Cross Massachusetts Region

Yakov Maknovskiy

Yakov Maknovskiy

As a part of the International Red Cross Red Crescent community, each American Red Cross chapter plays a key role in the Restoring Family Links program. During the chaos and confusion of war, disaster and migration, families often become separated and the Red Cross uses its international connections to help these families find each other and reconnect. Recently, the American Red Cross of Massachusetts had the opportunity to help a local Chelmsford resident, Yakov Maknovskiy.

Maknovskiy has lived in the United States ever since he fled Ukraine when the Nazis invaded his country in the early 1940’s when he was only three years old. While Maknovskiy’s immediate family made a harrowing escape that included German airplanes dive-bombing the train he and his family rode to escape, other members of his extended family were not so lucky. In the chaos of WWII and the years following, Maknovskiy lost touch with his family members that remained in the Ukraine. After hearing of a cousin’s death, Yakov learned that his deceased cousin had a daughter, named Nina, who had married and left the Ukraine for Azerbaijan.

Earlier this year, Maknovskiy came to the Red Cross with only the names and the general occupations of Nina and her two sons asking for us to help reconnect them. From there we contacted our colleagues at the Azerbaijan Red Crescent Society, who managed to track down Nina. Maknovskiy and his son, Leonid, were informed of the good news just a month after he originally contacted the Red Cross. After finding one another, Maknovskiy and his niece Nina have continued communicating via mail, email, phone, and even Skype.

Reconnecting Maknovskiy with his family perfectly exemplifies the American Red Cross’ mission to alleviate human suffering by utilizing the valuable work of our volunteers, the generous donations of our supporters, and our international partners. If you or someone you know is seeking to locate a family member abroad, learn how you can begin the search today by visiting

Remembering the Fall: The Berlin Wall and Reconnecting Families

Photography by Mike Farrar, Greater Long Beach and Rio Hondo Chapters, International Service and SAF Caseworker; and Tiffany Cambridge-Williams, National Headquarters, Program Assistant

This year marked the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, a barrier separating East and West Berlin and in many ways, a barrier that symbolized the separation of the world during the Cold War. The Wall not only divided nations and political ideologies, but also communities and families for decades. Throughout the Cold War, the International Red Cross helped maintain communication between loved ones separated by the Iron Curtain, and since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the American Red Cross continues to work with its international partners to help reconnect families.

The following photo essay is an homage to what the fall of the Berlin Wall represents for thousands of families: reconnection. In a time when conflicts and other barriers continue to cause human suffering by separating families and loved ones, it is important to remember that these constructs can be torn down, wars can be ended, and families can be restored.

While the Berlin Wall was standing, the Brandenburg Gate was completely cut off from West Berlin. It's place just behind the Wall led to it being prominently featured in media coverage of the Wall's fall. Today, the Gate represents both Europe's tumultuous past as well as European unity and peace.

Checkpoint Charlie was the name the Allied Forces gave to one of many checkpoints along the Berlin Wall. The checkpoint was named after "C" in the NATO phonetic alphabet. The checkpoint served as the single point entry into East Berlin for members of the Allied Forces and other foreigners.

Picture of real American soldier, Sergeant Jeff Harper, standing guard at Checkpoint Charlie. On the other side is a Russian soldier, name and whereabouts unknown.

Another picture of Checkpoint Charlie, present-day. The following photograph was taken at the same location on the day the Berlin Wall fell. The photo is a part of a gallery in Berlin that shows how the checkpoint was expanded and its significance during the Cold War, in particular the confrontation of Soviet and American tanks in 1961.

In the months that followed November 9, 1989, much of the Berlin Wall was demolished. The cobblestone path in the picture above marks where part of the Wall used to stand.

Some portions of the wall were given to museums around the world to commemorate its fall. Restoring Family Links Program Assistant, Tiffany Cambridge-Williams stands next to a section of the Berlin Wall outside the European Parliament building in Brussels, Belgium.

The chaos and confusion of war, disaster, and migration can separate families when they need each other most. When this happens, the Red Cross joins the search across international borders, offering a unique service that reconnects families. To learn more about this service or to initiate your search for a loved one, visit their website

This Week in Restoring Family Links News 11/1/2014-11/7/2014

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.

Unaccompanied Child Migrants: This week, a number of significant news stories came out of New York concerning the work of organizations and child advocates to help unaccompanied child migrants navigate the US migration system and adjust to their new lives. Many religious organizations across the US have opened their arms to these children, providing services that include reuniting them with family, providing legal services, and ensuring they have access to education. Legal assistance is extremely important as there are several [extremely complicated] options through which unaccompanied children can gain legal status in the US. Even with the help of pro bono attorneys, the case isn’t guaranteed to be approved; without this assistance, that chance is reduced dramatically.

In other news, a former child migrant shares his story of fleeing violence in Honduras seven years ago. He is now a citizen of the US and wants to share his story with the US public to help them understand both the hardships faced by youth in Honduras and the gratitude he feels for the help he received. While all children are vulnerable to violence and exploitation while migrating to the US as well as once they arrive, a new report by the Center for American Progress highlights the experiences of LGBT migrant youth and how the US can improve its immigration systems to better account for their protection needs. And on the topic of how the US government can continue to address the situation, Presidents from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras will all be visiting the US next week to discuss ongoing strategies for how to address the root causes of child migration.

Distribution of relief to internally displaced families, Al Dura, Baghdad, Iraq, October 2014

Distribution of relief to internally displaced families, Al Dura, Baghdad, Iraq, October 2014

International Committee of the Red Cross: Daily the ICRC engages in work around the globe to protect civilians from the ravages of war and preserve human dignity. Their work to help refugees fleeing violence in South Sudan and Central African Republic continues to provide a lifeline for many. The ICRC is also deeply engaged in protecting internally displaced persons. In 2014, eighty-eight percent of ICRC food aid went to displaced persons. They also play a critical role in reuniting families separated by violence. This work continues across the globe from Ukraine to Iraq to Nigeria.

South Sudan: Pressure continues to be applied to the armed conflict parties in South Sudan to lay down their arms and work to establish peace. In the capital city, Juba, civilians took to the streets to protest under the theme “Violence Never Gains.” The protest not only pressured the combatants to cease fighting, but also called on the mediating agency, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, to resume negotiations immediately. Internationally, many organizations have signed a petition for states bordering South Sudan and the United Nations to issue an arms embargo to limit the means for continuing violence within the state. While not mentioning an embargo, the United Nations Security Council strongly condemned the violence.

The ongoing conflict continues to affect food security in the region. The food situation in tandem with the violence continues to force many to flee to surrounding nations, especially Ethiopia and Uganda. In Ethiopia, the ICRC and the Ethiopian Red Cross continue to deliver aid in refugee camps and work to ensure the protection of these refugees. Uganda’s refugee system is different in that refugees are not placed in camps, but rather settlements where refugees are encouraged to grow their own food and work to support themselves with some assistance from aid agencies.