Finding Hope in the Desert: Reconnecting Migrant Families

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Story by Sarah Roberts, No More Deaths, Medical Team Volunteer

As the immigration process through Central America and Mexico to the US often results in the loss of contact between migrants and their families in their country of origin, the American Red Cross’ Restoring Family Links (RFL) program has increasingly looked for ways in which to help this population regain that contact. Through pilot projects, the RFL program has been able to form partnerships with other organizations providing services to migrant communities in order to provide and promote the restoring family links services of the Red Cross. In honor of International Migrants Day, a volunteer from one of the partner organizations, No More Deaths, has contributed a story highlighting both the importance of this work and some of its amazing results.

No More Deaths (NMD) is an organization whose mission is to end the death and suffering of migrants along the US/Mexico border through civil initiative. We provide services with the conviction that people of conscience must work openly and in community to uphold fundamental human rights. Our work embraces faith-based principles for immigration reform and focuses on encouraging humane immigration policy and consciousness raising while also witnessing and responding to migrant needs.

No More Deaths' relationship with the Red Cross began when representatives of the Tucson, Arizona chapter, and the national Outreach Coordinator of the Red Cross Restoring Family Links program, reached out to our organization, proposing to begin working together to reconnect family members separated by the perilous journey that often extends from Central America, through Mexico, and then into the deserts of the southwestern United States.  Volunteers with NMD met with and accompanied Red Cross representatives to the desert camp and medical tent.  This marked the beginning of the phone card program in August 2013.  The Red Cross provides telephone services for desert travelers who may have no other way of contacting worried family back in their home countries or those who may already be in the US.

Memorial erected along the migratory route to honor the fathers, mothers, and children who have lost their lives crossing the border.

Memorial erected along the migratory route to honor the fathers, mothers, and children who have lost their lives crossing the border.

The program has made a huge difference in the lives of many, helping people reconnect to loved ones who have not heard from them in weeks, sometimes months.  There was one man from Honduras who had been traveling for seven weeks and had not had any opportunities to contact his family, including his wife, mother, sister, and four children. He jumped at the chance to call them. When his wife answered the phone, he began crying in relief along with his wife on the other end. Everyone sounded incredibly relieved to know that he was ok.

Another man was crossing to return to his family in the US. He had been lost in the desert for nine days. He said that his family expected a call from him when he got to Phoenix, but they had not heard from him because he was lost for so long. When he called them the relief was very apparent. He said that his family was terrified for him crossing the desert and had been extremely worried for the many days they went without hearing any news. It was a wonderful to be able to offer the phone service.

One person in camp had been crossing the border with a coyote but was separated from his group and lost for four days. His journey of wondering, lost in the desert had such a terrifying effect that he was unsure of whether to continue north or to turn himself in to return to his family in Mexico. The prospect of walking any further in the desert was clearly overwhelming. Through the provided phone service, he was able to call his family to ask their advice on the situation. The ability to talk about what to do with his family made the circumstances much more manageable and he was comforted after talking to his loved ones.

It has been wonderful to provide this phone service and hear such emotional stories from people who may have otherwise not been able to communication with their loved ones. It is important to be able to offer this glimmer of hope in the midst of the perilous migration routes. We are deeply grateful to the Red Cross for providing this opportunity to reconnect separated family members and for their work in support of migrant communities.  When those separated and alone are able to reconnect with loved ones, this is an emotional support like no other.