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.