Colombian Refugees Engage in Restoring Family Links

Story by Mary (Jacoby) Hastings, Colorado and Wyoming Region, Red Cross International Services Volunteer
Photography by Tim Bothe, Service to the Armed Forces and International Services Manager

On July 21, 2013, the American Red Cross of Colorado International Services program participated in a celebration of Colombia’s Independence Day. The festivities occurred at Columbus Park in Denver, Colorado with an anticipated attendance of 4,000 individuals. The annual event was organized by Club Colombia Unida. The American Red Cross attended to provide information on disaster preparedness as well as how the Red Cross helps reconnect families separated by natural disaster, conflict, and migration. This opportunity enabled the Red Cross to provide outreach to the Colombian community in Denver, where many refugees within Colorado escaped war, political persecution and other humanitarian crises.

According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Colombia has one of the highest populations of Internally Displaced Persons in the world at 3.9 million people of which 394,000 are refugees. Eighteen thousand individuals are currently seeking asylum.

When armed conflict or disasters force people to leave their countries, it can leave family members asking, “Where is my sister…brother…mother…father?” and “Are they alive?” Through the Restoring Family Links (RFL) program, the American Red Cross provides tracing services so that families overseas can search for the answers. Understanding that the pain of separation is enormous when you do not know if your loved ones are alive or suffering, the American Red Cross can help by delivering a simple message like “I am alive!” or facilitating reunions.

Yadira Rodriguez raising awareness of RFL services at the celebration of Colombia's Independence Day

Yadira Rodriguez raising awareness of RFL services at the celebration of Colombia's Independence Day

Over the past decade more than 46 people from Colombia have taken refuge in the state of Colorado after fleeing the violence that has plagued the South American country for over 50 years. Colombian Independence Day celebration was bittersweet for those individuals because they may not know what has become of family members that they may have had to leave behind in Colombia. Not only did Colombian natives come out to celebrate their independence from Spain, but members of other Latin American countries came out to celebrate as well. Yadira Rodriguez, a Red Cross RFL caseworker volunteer and Colombian native, engaged the attendees about how the Red Cross may be able to assist families reconnect through the RFL program and distributed over one hundred canvass bags filled with informational brochures. Having someone with a personal connection to the community was a tremendous benefit for reaching out to those at the celebration.

To continue the celebration of Colombia’s independence, the Red Cross of Colorado hosted a lunch-and-learn on July 24. Yadira was the guest speaker and gave a presentation on the culture and situation in Colombia and its impact on the civilian population. The presentation was attended by 15 Red Cross staff members and helped them better understand the conflict and how the Red Cross was providing assistance. This presentation served as the launch for the monthly International Services lunch and learns. The next presentations in the series will focus on the Holocaust and the situation in Guatemala. These lunch-and-learns provide an excellent opportunity for paid and volunteer staff to better understand the global network of the Red Cross as well as engage our diverse volunteers and partners.

American Red Cross caseworkers around the U.S. help families locate missing relatives by working with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and Red Cross and Red Crescent organizations in nearly every country around the world. Annually the American Red Cross assists more than 5,000 families trying to reconnect with their loved ones in the U.S. and around the world.