Red Cross Reconnects Iraqi Refugees with Their Past

Story by Jack Wilson, North Texas Region, Metro Field Specialist - Service to the Armed Forces and International Services

Jack Wilson

Jack Wilson

Restoring Family Links (RFL) is about reconnecting people. Often this means reconnecting loved ones separated by borders, continents, and miles and miles of ocean due to ongoing armed conflict or sudden natural disasters. Through another part of the program, Certificates of Detention, RFL caseworkers help to reconnect clients with their own past – or more accurately with proof of their experiences fleeing violence.

In the past few months, the North Texas Region has seen a surge in requests for Certificates of Detention from clients who fled Iraq during the First Gulf War and were detained in refugee camps in Saudi Arabia, many for more than five years. This increase has not been limited to one chapter or region. This past month, I was able to see that first hand while interning with the RFL team at National Headquarters. All over the country, RFL caseworkers are listening to the stories of former refugees and helping them recall details of lives tens of thousands of miles away and two decades behind in order to possess proof of their time in places not their home.  

This process can take months. Sometimes it never ends. Until spending time with the RFL team, National Headquarters seemed to be this place far away where these requests – these stories of hardship and oftentimes of fear and occasionally of despair – disappeared and then (hopefully) magically appeared later in the form of Certificates of Detention.  The names of the caseworkers and interns and volunteers working tirelessly to help these clients without ever having the privilege to meet them were familiar, but only in the abstract – as an email signature or a voice on the phone. Working alongside them in DC, I could see the same level of dedication to serving clients as is exhibited by the caseworkers with whom I work each week locally. We truly are a national team bound together by dedication to our shared mission.

Keeping that mission in mind is as vital in Restoring Family Links as it is in any Red Cross line of service. It is easy to do when face to face with a client. It becomes impossible to not have the mission at the forefront of your mind when hearing about a client’s experience and how much he or she wants to hold a document that serves to validate those years spent without a place to call home. What impresses me most about the RFL caseworkers around the country is that the drive to do whatever it takes for the client does not wane after the client leaves the office, even when the months drag on or the documentation cannot be found. I thought my colleagues in North Texas were special in this regard (and they are!) but I see now that the unique combination of compassion for our clients, human curiosity to learn more about that which we can’t really comprehend, and a passion for seeing a service through to completion is evident in every part of the Red Cross network. My colleagues are very special. They are also part of a team of special people that is even larger and even more dedicated than I imagined.