Eritrea: 18 years later, father finds lost son

Eritrea: 18 years later, father finds lost son

18 years had passed since Michael last communicated with his family. He wanted to locate his only son and be reunited again. Nearly two decades since being separated, that long-impossible dream came true.

''No words can express my happiness. I am born again,'' Michael said after a connection was made with the help of the International Committee of the Red Cross and its family tracing services.

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Mother and Daughter Reunited after 18-Year Separation

Mother and Daughter Reunited after 18-Year Separation

Tears streamed down Lemlem's cheeks the whole day after returning to Ethiopia. Why so many tears? Her return voyage from Eritrea allowed Lemlem to reunite with her daughter after being apart for 18 years and to meet the sister and brother she had never met before.

Lemlem hadn't seen Merhawit since the girl was two.

"I was emotional and started sobbing the whole day from the moment I met my daughter and sister. It is really unbelievable that I met them. When I was in Eritrea I was constantly thinking about my family. I never imagined I would meet them all again after such a long time," Lemlem said.

"There is nothing more exciting than finding your family again."

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This Week in Restoring Family Links News 10/19/2015 - 10/23/2015

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 Neutrality: This week the Restoring Family Links Blog highlighted the Red Cross Red Crescent Fundamental Principle of Neutrality. This Principle ensures that the Movement will not “take sides in hostilities or engage at any time in controversies of a political, racial, religious or ideological nature.” This stance has generated many myths about what the Red Cross can and cannot do, first and foremost, that if an issue, for instance migration, is politicized, the Movement cannot take action. Yet, neutrality is not meant to dictate what the Red Cross does, but how it does it.

Around the globe, the Red Cross puts politics aside to meet the humanitarian needs of the most vulnerable. From providing medical aid in Syria, to helping migrants and refugees in Europe, to providing phone calls for children separated from their families along the US-Mexico border, the Movement is there to protect humanity, no matter how an issue may be politicized.

Refugees arrive on a dinghy after crossing from Turkey to Lesbos island, Greece. Photo: AP

Refugees arrive on a dinghy after crossing from Turkey to Lesbos island, Greece. Photo: AP

Migration in Europe: Migration in Europe continued to dominate the news this week, from criticisms of inaction and wrong-doing, to meetings on how to move forward, to looking at what governments and organizations are doing right. This week the UN slammed the Czech Republic for their treatment of migrants and refugees in detention. Several reports showed that dehumanizing treatment wasn't coincidental or an unfortunate consequence of an overwhelmed system, but systematic. The Czech government has been urged to reform their detention policies. Meanwhile, the recent closure of Hungary’s border has once more altered migration routes to go through Slovenia. Human Rights Watch researcher has criticized many EU nations for passing off responsibility for protecting refugees and migrants, and essentially, “playing a game of hot potato with human beings.”

Meanwhile, many organizations and governments across Europe continue to address the crisis. Red Cross Societies met this week to find humanitarian solutions as well as discuss how humanitarian policy should be shaped to better serve the needs of those in the midst of the population movement. Following last week’s EU summit, European Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker, this week called for another meeting of heads of state to push humanitarian solutions to the crisis.

And not everything is doom and gloom in Europe. The work of humanitarian organizations such as the Red Cross and the International Organization for Migration continues to ensure migrants and refugees have access to medical care, shelter, and communication with their families. As winter fast approaches, many organizations and governments are also working to address the seasonal needs of these displaced populations. The role private companies have taken in funding the response was also highlighted this week, as well as a call for the sector to take a greater role, at least monetarily.

One story that doesn't really fit in with the other topics, but I think is worth highlighting, is the number of Eritrean migrants that make up Europe’s current crisis. For years, thousands have been fleeing the corruption, poverty, and human rights abuses of Eritrea. For the nation’s size, it is playing an extremely large role, with 1 in 50 Eritreans seeking protection in Europe. This is important to highlight because it emphasizes the global nature of addressing the root causes of the situation. We can’t work to just end the war in Syria, but must fix global systems of injustice, inequality, and human rights abuses.

North Korean Son Kwon Geun, center, weeps with his South Korean relatives as he says goodbye to them on Thursday, Oct. 22, 2015. Photo: AP

North Korean Son Kwon Geun, center, weeps with his South Korean relatives as he says goodbye to them on Thursday, Oct. 22, 2015. Photo: AP

Korean Family Reunions: Finally, the first of two waves of reunions for families separated by the Korean War in the 1950s took place in a North Korean resort at Mount Kumgang. The reunions are a triumph in humanitarian diplomacy as they are the first reunions to take place in over a year-and-a-half and were threatened to be cancelled on a number of occasions by North Korea. The emotional meetings allow families that have been separated for six decades to meet once again. As the majority of this population is aging, this is most likely the last time they will see one another. Questions about these reunions? A great article was published providing answers to some of the most common questions.

Joining your Family - When a rickety boat is your only Choice

Story by Meron Estefanos, Co-founder of International Commission on Eritrean Refugees

I am often amazed by how far removed the policy world is from the realities of refugees and asylum seekers who find themselves caught up in the plethora of legislation, policies and practices that intertwine to make their access to safety almost impossible. From my conversations with hundreds of Eritrean refugees and asylum seekers caught up in navigating their way to safety, I have come to conclude that European immigration policies are experienced by refugees as yet another barrier they have to dodge, leading many to take illegal and often dangerous routes to attain the protection they are legally entitled to.

This is the case for many refugees who wish to join their families. For instance, some European countries only grant family reunification to people who possess a valid passport from their country of origin.

Fisseha (not his real name), a member of a political organization opposed to the regime in Eritrea, lives in France, where he has been granted asylum. His wife and daughter live in Sudan and are extremely anxious about the danger posed by the presence of agents of the Eritrean regime who have in the past kidnaped and forcefully returned people from Sudan to Eritrea.

Fisseha has been an open and prominent dissident of the regime and his family would never be granted an Eritrean passport in Sudan. Seeing no other option, his wife paid smugglers to put herself and her daughter on a boat departing from Libya on the 30 of June. Three months on, no one has been able to trace the boat. It vanished along with Fisseha’s family and over 250 others.

Fissesha’s family is not alone in this obstacle course. The plight of Hiryti, who I met through my work with victims of human trafficking in Sinai, started when being four months pregnant. She decided to join her husband in Israel. When she got to Sudan, she was kidnapped and the ransom demanded was $30,000.

Inevitably it took months for that kind of money to be collected by family and their networks and meanwhile she was tortured and gave birth to her son shackled. When she was eventually freed and made it to Israel, the Israelis deported her back to Egypt despite knowing that her husband was in the country. From Egypt, she was deported back to Eritrea.

No one survives that kind of pregnancy and birth without serious health complications. In addition, the financial resources of her entire family had been exhausted, but she remained determined to join her husband. Fearing the ordeal of being kidnaped again, Hiryti and her husband decided to invest in bribing Eritrean officials to get a passport and exit visa so she would be allowed to leave the country ‘legally.’

Little did they know, the UN Refugee Agency would consider that prudence as an indicator that Hiryti has no needs for protection under the refugee convention. She cannot go to Israel and her husband cannot go to Sudan either. Without a refugee card she was at risk of being arrested by Sudanese officials and being deported again to Eritrea. Hiryti is now left with a single option: attempting to go through Libya and cross the Mediterranean into Europe.  

Every year, many more families are forced to attempt dangerous and illegal routes where together with corrupt officials and unscrupulous smugglers and traffickers, European and international policies and practices are endangering the lives of the very people they are meant to protect. There is a need for coherent immigration and asylum policies and for that, the experiences of people genuinely in need of international protection have to be taken into account.

This article originally appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 3 October 2014. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.

Why Volunteering for the Red Cross is Personal to Me

Story by Muzit Mengesha, Los Angeles Region, Volunteer

Muzit Mengesha

Muzit Mengesha

I grew up in Eritrea, a country in Africa. I am a volunteer caseworker with the American Red Cross in a program called Restoring Family links. How I came to do this is a very personal story.

People suffer tremendously when they lose contact with, or receive no news from their loved ones. The Restoring Family Links service of the American Red Cross plays an important role in restoring and maintaining contact between family members and loved ones by sending Red Cross Messages (RCMs). RCMs can be accepted from family members with whom have no other way to re-establish communications. This is especially useful for talking refugee/displaced loved ones in another country.

I was introduced to the RCMs back in 1998 during the conflict between Eritrea and Ethiopia. My cousin, who was living in Ethiopia, was detained by the Ethiopian government when the conflict arose. There was no normal means of communication to re-establish contact with him. At that time RCMs were the last resort.

When the family members found out that he had been detained in Ethiopia, we were told to try the RCMs. We did, and within a few short days we received a response from my cousin, telling us that he was well and alive. That simple message meant the world to us, and eased the minds of our family and brought tears to me when I recognized his hand writing.

At that time, I was only aware that Red Cross Messages helped to restore and maintain contact between family members and loved ones in times of armed conflict, but after I took the Restoring Family Links Caseworker training, I came to understand all of the services that are provided by the Restoring Family Links program. The Restoring Family Links Program provides a variety of services to help families who have been separated by conflict, disaster, migration, or other humanitarian emergencies. I was inspired to invest my time to bring people together who have been split apart no matter what the reason because I had experienced that kind of pain myself.

Recently, my colleague and I had to do two home visits to try and locate clients whose families were worried about their health and could not communicate with them without the help of the Red Cross. Before we went to the client’s house, we prepared a letter to leave behind in case no one was at home. Since it was my first time going out for home visit I was excited to see the outcome.

When we located the address, the people we needed to see were not living there, so we spoke to the landlord and neighbors. We were informed that one of the clients had passed away but was survived by her son. We visited the son’s address and were able to deliver the Red Cross Message to him. We were also able to locate a second client because of the information we got from the landlord.

It has been a wonderful and successful experience for me working with the American Red Cross in Restoring Family Links program, and I will continue to invest my time in helping others, just liked I was helped.

For more stories from the Red Cross Los Angeles Region, please click here.

Muzit Mengesha was born in Eritrea, and studied for an advanced degree in International Humanitarian Law and Business Law in India. She recently moved with family to the United States, where she is a volunteer in the Red Cross Los Angeles Region.