Preparing Migrants and Building Resilient Communities

Preparing Migrants and Building Resilient Communities

With the holiday season upon us and as we observe International Migrants Day, I can’t help but reminisce on my family's first few Christmases here in the United States. Having migrated from Mexico, coming to a new country brought many unexpected difficulties.  My second Christmas here is especially memorable for me, but not for all the joyous reasons Christmas is expected to have.

Unable to travel and visit family back home, we had gathered together with friends who had also immigrated to the United States from Mexico. My parents had prepared everything, from the food to the Christmas tree, to places for all our guest to sleep. But with an unpredicted twist, we awoke from a joyous Christmas Eve to a Christmas nightmare.

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Migration and Measles Prevention

Migration and Measles Prevention

For millions of children, experiencing this level of trauma at such a young age causes developmental consequences.  For a family trying to land on their feet in a new environment, access to adequate education, accommodations, and health care are priorities.  Where do they start?

A joint report from WHO-UNHCR-UNICEF reveals that those most at risk for vaccine-preventable diseases are young children, and that “refugees and migrants be vaccinated against these diseases as a priority in line with national vaccination schedules.”

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Reconnecting a Father with his Son

Reconnecting a Father with his Son

Brandon was a child of war. Like so many, his family fled Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). They went to Senegal, where he was born then to the United States when he was 4 years old.

Their destinations: Iowa. Oklahoma. Eventually Columbia, South Carolina. Along the way, his parents separated and he lived with his father until the father had to return to the DRC, eventually relocating to the Republic of Congo. Eventually, at age 22, Brandon graduated from the University of South Carolina. He told a friend he hoped he could reconnect with his father.

Through the Red Cross, Brandon’s father found him in May 2015.

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This Week in Restoring Family Links News 12/13/2014-12/19/2014

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.

International Migrants Day: This week, the United Nations recognized International Migrants Day which commemorates the adoption of the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families. The day is a day to recognize the contributions made by migrants to the societies in which they settle as well as draw attention to the increasing plight many face when immigrating. It is estimated that there are 232 million migrants internationally today, surviving and struggling in a variety of political, cultural, and contextual situations. Two contexts that are often in the news (at least in the US) are migration in the Mediterranean and the Americas.

Before I delve into those two topics, I would like to highlight the work of the Red Cross Movement to protect migrants and alleviate their suffering. As an impartial, neutral organization, the International Committee of the Red Cross works neither to encourage or prevent migration, but rather to ensure that vulnerable migrants and their families are given the protection they are due. This includes promoting alternatives to detention, and when migrants are detained, ensuring they are done so in a way that preserves and promotes human dignity. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies is also committed to protecting vulnerable migrants, and for the International Migrants Day, released a call to action for the protection of migrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea.

That brings me to the European/Mediterranean migration context. Over the past year, the Mediterranean has become the deadliest border in the world for migrants with thousands of people fleeing crises in the home nations for safety of Europe. Overcrowding of boats, rough waters, and the increasingly dangerous behavior of smugglers has led to almost weekly shipwrecks. In response the Italian government launched Mare Nostrum, an operation to rescue migrants from the sea. This effort recently came to an end and a smaller operation was started by the European Union. However, individuals have also taken up the mantel of protecting migrants, including one couple who have saved 3,000 lives.

Even once migrants have reached European shores, their struggles do not end. Many are trying to reach Western and Northern European nations where they already have family, yet European law dictates that they have to seek asylum in the nation at which they first arrive. This has lead migrants and Southern European nations to protest current policies and call for immigration reform, respectively. Even those who make it to Western Europe, but are trying to reach the United Kingdom have become bottlenecked in Calais, France. For International Migrants Day, one news story highlights the days, miles, and struggles of three migrants' journeys who are now waiting at the port to enter the UK.

In the Americas, a lot of the news over the past few months has focused on the increase in unaccompanied child migrants fleeing Central America for the United States. While their narratives and the work of organizations to help them are critical for ensuring the protection of vulnerable children, it is also important to highlight other migration issues in the region. The treacherous conditions migrants face when crossing into the US has led to many migrant deaths along the border. In Texas, the lack of a centralized tracking system and funding means many migrant remains go unidentified, placed in unmarked mass migrant graves leaving loved ones without the knowledge of their fate. In response, many organizations have begun providing humanitarian assistance to migrants in the borderlands. This includes putting water along migrant routes, providing medical aid when possible, and helping to meet the family communication needs of migrants.

As immigration reform continues to be a “hot topic” in the US, it is important to remember the daily plight faced by many migrants throughout the Americas. It is important to remember that migrants are humans with human needs and rights. It is important to remember and support the work of organizations ensuring needs are met and rights are protected. And it is important to remember all these things when policy is discussed and changed.

Cuba Announcement: This Wednesday, President Obama announced that he plans on opening diplomatic relations with Cuba. This will bring an end to a decades long embargo that cut off Cuba from the US and limited the communication and visitation ability of Cuban Americans to their families remaining on the island nation. A generational divide marked the majority of reactions from the Cuban American community with younger generations welcoming the opening of ties while sentiments of anger and betrayal were expressed from those who were born in Cuba. Over the years, the Red Cross has stepped in to facilitate communication between family members divided between the two nations when regular means of communication became unavailable. It is our hope that the opening of diplomatic relations better allows for loved ones to communicate and interact with one another.

The Fundamental Principles of Helping Migrants

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Story by Elissa Maish, Southern Arizona, International Services Volunteer

“Do you have a high clearance vehicle?”  Volunteers at No More Deaths (NMD) posed this question when Red Cross representatives expressed an interest to view the humanitarian work provided to migrants. The small Red Cross delegation included Harold Brooks, Senior Vice President of International Operations, Kathleen Salanik, Director of the Restoring Family Links program, as well as other key representatives from Washington, DC and Arizona. Our objectives were to explore Red Cross programs in action and to grow partnerships with organizations that share common values in alleviating human suffering.

No More Deaths is a partner organization that works to provide humanitarian relief for migrants along the US-Mexico border. They conduct water drops along migrant trails and also have a camp in the desert where travelers can receive medical aid as well as make safe and well phone calls to their loved ones.

When asked about high clearance vehicles, we knew that we were in for an adventure. Byrd Camp, the location of the NMD humanitarian operation is located in rough terrain. Our NMD staff guides for the day, Dr. Norma Price and Leah Peachtree, met us at the Arivaca Community Center.

We also met and interacted with several very dedicated and experienced No More Deaths volunteers who had just arrived in a well-worn pickup truck. Their mission for the day: backpack into the desert and leave life-saving water along migrant routes.  

After wishing them well, we continued our journey over a very distressed road to the camp. It was not lost on us that our discomfort paled in comparison to the conditions experienced by the migrants who walk, suffer and perish along these routes. We saw several small crosses dotting the landscape where human remains had been located previously. 

Upon arriving in the camp, we toured medical tents and a few out buildings. The migrants present at the camp suffered from a variety of injuries including sprained ankles, severe blisters and other foot injuries, dehydration, general exposure, and malnutrition. Patients are evaluated and if possible, treated at the camp. They are also provided with food, water, shower facilities, used clothing, shoes, and harm reduction kits.

Also while at the camp, the migrants are able to take advantage of an essential service that fulfills a critical human need – the ability to communicate with family members.  Through the cell phone services provided by the American Red Cross, migrants are able to place well-being calls to family members, most of whom are desperate for news from their loved ones.

Upon leaving Byrd Camp, our group traveled to Nogales, a city separated by a border. We traveled to the Mexico-side where we were greeted by our counterparts at la Cruz Roja Mexicana. Over lunch, we received updates on the services they provide, including those for migrants in Mexico. Since 2003, la Cruz Roja Mexicana in Sonora has served over 106,000 migrants through medical support, water and Restoring Family Links cell phone services.

One highlight of the trip to Nogales was a visit to a migrant shelter operated by a husband and wife. This shelter is a welcoming space with clean, cushioned bunk beds capable of accommodating approximately 300 people per night.

The owner told us how he was saddened to see particularly talented farmers from Chiapas leave Mexico for low paid, low valued labor in the US. He decided that he could make a difference and bought small quantities of seeds for a unique chili and then provided the migrants with some temporary parcels of land. The goal was to give them a jump start and see if they could support themselves in the long term. We were so moved when we were told that the program has been so successful and profitable, that the farmers now have no plans to seek opportunities in the USA. One person can truly make a difference.

 The view from outside St. Andrew's Episcopal Church in Nogales, Arizona

The view from outside St. Andrew's Episcopal Church in Nogales, Arizona

Our day ended with a celebration at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Nogales, Arizona.  Father Galaz and the church members had generously hosted several Restoring Family Links volunteer training classes during the unaccompanied child crisis this past summer.   Many new bi-lingual American Red Cross volunteers were recruited to help the children place calls to loved ones.

The field trip was an immense success. We witnessed the work of the Red Cross and partner organizations to protect human dignity, meaning everyone is entitled to feel safe, and have food, clothing, shelter, medical and mental health and an ability to practice their religion or spiritual beliefs. The need for contact with loved ones is essential and was recognized and understood by all. We were proud to experience the programs and services of the Red Cross in action that consistently align with our principles of impartiality, neutrality, independence and volunteerism.