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.

Refugees and the State: This week, the Restoring Family Links’ Twitter shared a number of stories highlighting the ongoing struggles around the world that refugees face in relation to the actions of host and resettlement nations. In Australia, the state has largely denied its responsibilities to asylum seekers by sending them back to Indonesia or to offshore detention centers. For many unaccompanied minors, this has meant being stuck in detention in Indonesia with little hope of being resettled in another country. This past week, refugee activists and churchgoers in Australia came together to protest this treatment of refugees. Another refugee protest has been taking place in Germany where a lengthy asylum process and poor treatment of refugees has left many refugees homeless. In Lebanon, as the rising number of refugees continues to put a strain on the nation, the government seeks to limit the number of new arrivals. Elsewhere, a study finds that Canada’s new system for processing refugee claims turns gaining entry into the nation into a luck of the draw. And in the US, Wyoming continues its debate on opening a refugee resettlement program in the state.

Helping Refugees: While refugees continue to face struggles around the world, there is plenty of work taking place to help refugees. Despite the current difficulties faced by refugees in Australia, there are plenty of organizations working to help those already in the nation, including this organization helping refugees learn how to swim. This week the blog also highlighted the work of the American Red Cross and the ICRC to help Iraqi refugees obtain proof of their time in detention following the First Gulf War. In addition to the Red Cross, numerous organization from Catholic charities in Kansas to resettlement agencies in Wisconsin help newly arrived refugees adjust to their new lives in the US.

South Sudan: As the conflict continues in South Sudan, leaders from the United States, the European Union, and the United Nations call on the international community to support the work being done to provide humanitarian aid to those affected by the conflict. Likewise, government officials have pledged support for these efforts and made numerous statements condemning the ongoing violence in the world’s newest nation. Condemnation has also been made of some rebel factions for their use of child soldiers and their lack of adherence to international humanitarian law.

My Red Cross Story: Reconnecting Families across Time and Distance

Robbe Sokolove, Red Cross Volunteer

Robbe Sokolove, Red Cross Volunteer

By Robbe Sokolove, Colorado and Wyoming Region, Red Cross Volunteer

People all around the globe reach out to the Red Cross to initiate an International Tracing case. They’ve been separated from their loved ones by war, conflict or disaster and they hope to send a message to get back in touch.

When a case is initiated, the national Red Cross office will look for potential addresses based on the person’s last known whereabouts. As an International Services Casework volunteer, it’s my job to start tracing them from that information in order to deliver a message.

After I retired from a career as a librarian, I wanted to pursue something that was stimulating but where I could interact with people and use my skills for something good. My 30 years of research are a huge asset - but I also perform what’s essentially detective work, pounding the pavement to knock on doors, ask questions, build relationships and follow clues to find the long-lost family member.

For example, there was a brother and sister from Somalia who got separated from each other when they were very young, each living in different refugee camps. She eventually relocated to Colorado about 10 years ago, and lost all track of her brother. He was still in a refugee camp in Kenya and initiated a case with the Red Cross there hoping to get back in contact with his sister. The Kenyan Red Cross shared the tracing inquiry with the American Red Cross national headquarters, where they ran a list of her last known potential addresses. Because those leads were here in the Denver metro area, I was assigned the case.

No one would answer the cell phone number provided, so I visited the suggested address. The first time I went, I knocked and no one answered – but a child peeked out of the shutters. I showed her my Red Cross badge to let her know it was safe. She recognized the Red Cross emblem and took me to a family member. The sister I was seeking was not home, but I was given her direct cell phone number.  After several failed attempts to arrange contact, I finally met the woman in person and delivered a hand-written message in Swahili from her brother.

I got to watch her reaction as she read his letter. She was astounded to hear from her brother after all these years, and to read that he had married and had children. Soon, I will deliver another message complete with photographs from the refugee camp.

That is just one of the dozens of interesting cases I have worked over the past year.   Reuniting families is one of the most gratifying things I have ever done.  It is a privilege as well as a great adventure.

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

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.

Volunteer Appreciation Week: This week, the Restoring Family Links blog celebrated the amazing contributions of volunteers to the American Red Cross through their work with the RFL program. From the program’s Advocate in Chicago helping an unaccompanied minor reconnect with his mother, to the story of Manyang Reath who was reconnected with his mother by the Red Cross and now volunteers for the program, the work of reconnecting families would not be possible without the dedication of these volunteers. Many other organizations also rely on the passion and commitment of volunteers to support their services. Volunteers with Catholic Charities in Nashville work to help refugee youths make the transition to living in the US. Thank you to all the volunteers who make the work of the American Red Cross and other humanitarian organizations possible!

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Rwandan Genocide: This week was the 20th anniversary of the beginning of the Rwandan genocide. Over a 100-day period in 1994, extremist Hutus slaughtered over one million Tutsis and moderate Hutus. 20 years later, the memories live fresh in the minds of those who survived the violence. Ever since the genocide, refugees continue to remain in the surrounding nations for fear of returning to their home nation. The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) alone is home to over 200,000 of these refugees. While it should never take genocide to remind the world the necessity of preventing genocide, many have taken the Rwandan tragedy as a call to action for preventing future atrocities. The Rwandan and Israeli governments and civil societies have come together through their shared experience of genocide to promote awareness and prevention. While one humanitarian worker who helpless witnessed the violence in Rwanda from neighboring DRC calls on the international community to end the ongoing humanitarian crises in the Central African Republic and DRC.

Migrants: Last year, the tragedy in Lampedusa drew the world’s attention to the thousands of deaths that happen annually as migrants attempt to reach Europe by boat from North Africa. As Spring arrives and the waters of the Mediterranean begin to calm, the number of migrants who attempt this trek is expected to increase substantially, especially those seeking asylum from the political oppression in Eritrea. This past week alone, Italian authorities reported that 4000 migrants were rescued from the sea. This increase will necessitate immigration reform in the EU and calls on the international community to address the humanitarian crises currently driving migration. In the Americas, Honduran migrants injured during the treacherous migratory route from Central America to the US have called on the Mexican government to provide better protection for migrants. In a series by NPR, the lives of migrants as well as those who live along the US-Mexico border are shown. Meanwhile as immigration reform continues to stall in the US, bipartisan meetings begin to show signs of hope for an agreement in the coming years

Story Campaign March Recognition: Each month for the story campaign, every contributor from that month is being entered into a drawing for special recognition. We are excited to announce that March's special recognition is going to Bob Wiltz for his story on the work of the Greater Chicago Region to educate young adults about international humanitarian law and the struggles faced by refugees. In addition to the small prize for contributing to the blog, Bob will receive a certificate thanking him for his contributions to the outreach efforts of the Restoring Family Links program and recognizing his volunteerism and blog on the American Red Cross blog.

Refugee Reconnected with Mother by the Red Cross Pays it Forward

At the tender age of three, Manyang lost his father, uncle, and his home to the Sudanese Civil War, which also separated him from his mother. At that instant, Manyang became a refugee of the war, amongst the other 20,000 displaced and orphaned “lost boys of Sudan.” For 13 years, Manyang became accustomed to living in refugee camps along the border of Ethiopia and Sudan. Stability was nonexistent, nothing was guaranteed. By good fortune, Manyang was brought to the US at age 17 where he learned English and pursued a college degree. Throughout this time, he tried to reconnect with his mother by writing her letters through the American Red Cross. Over the course of many years, Manyang wrote around 220 letters, and finally, the American Red Cross and the ICRC were able to find his uncle, who then passed on the message to his mother. Eventually, Manyang was able to physically reconnect with his mother back in Sudan.

While his life had taken a turn for the better, he could not ignore the continuing crises faced by the people of Sudan. In 2008, he formed Humanity Helping Sudan to help elevate Sudanese refugees from poverty by teaching them vocational skills that will make them self-sufficient. Through this organization, Manyang has been a guest speaker for several summits including the United Nations’ NEXUS Global Youth Summit in New York City and at the African Union in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. In August 2012, the VH1 Do Something Award Show honored Manyang as one of the best world-changers, 25 and under. Additionally, celebrities including Beyoncé Knowles, Ben Affleck, Alek Wek, and Anderson Cooper have recognized him for his humanitarian work.

Manyang has also continued his ties with the American Red Cross, volunteering with the Restoring Family Links program. As an RFL Advocate he works to promote reconnecting family services in refugee communities across the US. In the video below Manyang discusses what it was like to be reconnected with his mother and shares his dedication to the RFL program.

Red Cross Volunteer Reconnects Families Around the World

Since retiring from his career with AT&T in 2008, Mike Farrar has worked tirelessly as a volunteer with the American Red Cross filling many roles including Disaster Action Team Leader, Emergency Response Vehicle driver, and Youth Advisor. In April of 2009, he was inspired to work with the Restoring Family Links program and taken on multiple roles including caseworker, instructor, mentor, and most recently advocate. Through the International Humanitarian Law program, he has also worked to ensure that America's next generation will know and have a respect for humanitarian law.

Mike has said that the Restoring Family Links program speak personally to him as there was a period in his life where his family was separated from one another. Because of this, he knows the pain of separation and the joy of reunion. As an instructor, he always encourages caseworkers to approach their work as if they were searching for their own families.

At the Long Beach Chapter, Mike supervises fourteen volunteers doing casework and outreach. Mike is also a National Disaster responder for the American Red Cross with specialties as a supervisor in Safe and Well Linking and Disaster Assessment. In addition he is the Director of the Veterans History Project in Long Beach, which he brought not only to his region but also to all of California in 2010. The project works to collect oral histories from America’s wartime veterans. He has created a training class to teach staff and volunteers the entire process of interviewing Veterans from the initial call through the submission to the Library of Congress. He currently supports 48 volunteers working with him on this project.

While working to support Restoring Family Links caseworkers across the US, reaching out to refugee and migrant communities, building partnerships with key organizations, and educating local youth about International Humanitarian Law and Restoring Family Links, Mike has also been able to aid families reconnect with one another. In the video below, he shares the story of the first case he worked with the RFL program. Mike was asked to search for a man sought by his sister in Cambodia who the chapter had been seeking for a year. After three weeks of searching, Mike found him and was able to put him in contact with his sister.

Mike's passion for the Restoring Family Links program shines through his work. It is through the dedication of volunteers like Mike that the RFL program is able to continue to grow and provide hope to those separated from their loved ones.