Humanitarian Action across Borders: What I Learned from the Mexican Red Cross

Story by Kathleen Salanik, Restoring Family Links Director, Washington, DC

On January 14th, the American Red Cross is hosting a conference at its national headquarters office in Washington, DC to discuss “Humanitarian Action across Borders” and take a closer look at the humanitarian consequences of migration in the Americas region. For me, this event is timely in that I was recently able to witness first-hand humanitarian services for migrants on both sides of the US-Mexico border.

It’s always a pleasure meeting with Red Cross colleagues from different countries. You can go to virtually any place in the world and find Red Cross or Red Crescent volunteers providing humanitarian assistance. The work of this global network is tied together by humanitarian principles (we call them the Red Cross Fundamental Principles) which include humanity, voluntary service, independence from government, neutrality and impartiality, among others. These shared values and passion create a bond among Red Crossers that transcends borders and cultures. 

But with this shared culture, there is a unique flavor to the Red Cross in each area. What I love the most about colleagues in Mexico is their pride in being members of the Red Cross. When you meet a Mexican Red Cross volunteer, there is no mistaking it. They proudly wear brightly colored and neatly pressed uniforms with distinctive Red Cross emblems. They do a fantastic job of community engagement and have high visibility.  I’ve had the pleasure of visiting the Mexican Red Cross headquarters in Mexico City a few times, and each time, there are trainings or practice drills occurring in front of the building for all to see – numerous Red Cross volunteers in full uniform preparing to respond to emergencies.

On this particular visit, we met with Mexican Red Cross volunteers at their Sonora branch office. Being in a border town, these volunteers do a lot of work with migrants. They provide direct service, mobilize the community, and work with partners to address humanitarian needs. It was wonderful to see how the Mexican Red Cross has so many great partnerships with churches, community organizations and the government. 

Representatives from the Mexican Red Cross explain the services they provide migrants in Sonora.

Representatives from the Mexican Red Cross explain the services they provide migrants in Sonora.

The reason for the visit was to learn more about the partnerships the Mexican Red Cross has cultivated with government and non-governmental organizations to mobilize the community to help migrants. In the Unites States we recently began several phone call projects allowing traveling migrants to make “safe and well” phone calls home to alleviate the worries of their families and give migrants access to the support that family connection can provide. The American Red Cross modeled these projects on similar ones in Mexico, and we want to continue to capitalize on best practices and lessons learned in Mexico to apply to our programming in the US.

One of the mobile clinics run by the Mexican Red Cross.

One of the mobile clinics run by the Mexican Red Cross.

On this particular trip we spent a good amount of time visiting the mobile clinics and health stations run by the Mexican Red Cross. They provide health checks and first aid services to migrants who are traveling and those who have been returned. The Red Cross volunteers are compassionate service providers who offer a friendly welcome along with the health services they provide. The mobile clinics are an inviting place where migrants can rest, relax and obtain medical services. At many of the mobile clinics, phones are available to allow migrants to restore family contact. The warm welcome, health services and family phone calls are all part of a package the Mexican Red Cross provides migrants to enhance their resilience and overall well-being.

At the American Red Cross, we are on the right track in working to provide migrants with Restoring Family Links services. The Red Cross Fundamental Principles provide us a unique opportunity to work with all populations and partner with a diverse group of organizations. As we look for more opportunities to enhance the resilience of communities in the US, including migrants, the work of the Mexican Red Cross Sonora branch will serve as a model on compassionate service delivery and community engagement.