This Week in Restoring Family Links News 10/12/2015 - 10/16/2015

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.

Red Cross Impartiality: This week, the Restoring Family Links Blog highlighted the Red Cross Red Crescent Fundamental Principle of Impartiality. This principle ensures that the work of the Red Cross Movement does not discriminate based on race, religion, or political belief; serving those most in need regardless of who they are. For the Restoring Family Links program, that also means reconnecting loved ones no matter their definition of family.

Impartiality can be seen across the movement, from delivering aid to all those affected by the conflict in Syria, to helping families in Myanmar recover after flooding regardless of ethnicity, to reconnecting loved ones separated by World War II. Impartiality ensures the Red Cross can activate all its Fundamental Principles to help humanity.

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Migration in the US: With Europe receiving unprecedented numbers of refugees and migrants, it’s easy to forget that just last year in the United States, we had our own migration issues to address that continue to challenge humanitarian and government organizations. The complexities of US immigration has left thousands of children in limbo as they await a court decision that could either grant them asylum status in the US or send them back home.

There’s a lot of worry surrounding the latter option. There have been several reports that returned migrants to Central America are at immediate risk of violence, even death. And now those who decide to try to leave again face even more dangers traversing Mexico. Increased enforcement along the southern border has forced migrants to take riskier routes leaving them vulnerable to trafficking and exploitation.

In an attempt to decrease the number of children migrating from Central America while still offering them a chance at protection, the United States opened an in-country processing center where children with family in the US could apply for refugee, or parolee status. However, to date, while 4,600 youths have applied, only 11 have received this status. While the State Department says this is due to the lengthy process of screening the applicants, many immigration advocates are pushing for faster procedures to ensure those in need of protection receive it.

Migration in Europe: This week, the International Organization for Migration released a series of interactive maps detailing the status of and the response to refugees in Europe. Thousands continue to attempt the journey, and as winter approaches, many nations prepare for how that will change their response to meeting refugees’ needs. Meanwhile, the EU continues to try to address the issue on multiple fronts, this week offering aid and the renewed possibility of EU membership to Turkey in exchange for increased migration enforcement.

Reaction to refugees and migrants has been mixed. While the news of xenophobia and violence has tended to dominate the news, there are plenty of stories of communities and individuals rising up in support of their new neighbors. In Germany, one musician is supporting a Syrian refugee family both emotionally and socially, helping them through the asylum process. While in Greece, one community benefits from a commercial boost provided by refugees while simultaneously helping them on their journey.

The Power of Friendship and Reconnection

Story by Elizabeth Shemaria, Bay Area Chapter, Communications Specialist

In this week's highlight of the Red Cross Red Crescent principle of Impartiality, we wrote about the broad definition of family used in our reconnecting families work in order to ensure that everyone, regardless of who they hold dear, has the opportunity to reconnect following conflict, disaster, and migration. We've posted this before, but no story may highlight this better than the reconnection of Gunter Ullmann with Elfriede Hubner. They were childhood friends in Germany when they were separated by World War II. Read about Impartiality in practice.

When Gunter Ullmann fled Nazi Germany for Shanghai almost 75 years ago, he thought it was the last time he would see his childhood friend Elfriede Hubner.

With help from the Red Cross, Ullmann, a 64-year San Francisco resident and Hubner, who lives in Schwabisch Hall, a little more than one hour’s drive from where the two grew up, recently had a chance to share a lifetime worth of memories and meet each other’s extended families in Germany.

Ullmann and Hubner embrace after almost 75 years of separation.

Ullmann and Hubner embrace after almost 75 years of separation.

“Today is the day,” said Gunter on Mother’s Day 2012, with his passport peeking out of his shirt pocket as he waited at the airport with his wife Isle and their son Peter, to board a flight to Frankfurt. “It is happening. We’ll get to know each other again, and see what the future will bring.”

The Ullmann’s carried with them photos and stories to share with Hubner and her family, including photos of Gunter’s brother Walter who died last year and was also friends with Hubner.

The reunion, which has been 10 years in the making, started with a tracing request from Hubner’s son-in-law, George Finley, at a Massachusetts Red Cross office.

Ullmann’s family, who is Jewish, fled Mannheim, Germany in 1938 for Shanghai (one of the few places which allowed immigrants without visas at the time) when he was 14. Ullmann says his father took the family’s savings and bought one-way boat passages after “Kristallnacht,” the Night of Broken Glass, a series of attacks against Jews throughout Germany and Austria on November 9 and 10, 1938.

In 1948, the family then moved from Shanghai to San Francisco, where Ullmann worked as a mechanic, restaurant owner, and, for the last 15 years, as a volunteer tour guide at the San Francisco visitor information center in Union Square.

Ullmann, Hubner, and their families spend several days talking about their childhoods and the lives they have led since separated during World War II.

Ullmann, Hubner, and their families spend several days talking about their childhoods and the lives they have led since separated during World War II.

Hubner’s family, who is Christian, stayed in the apartment building where the two families lived and Hubner later moved to Schwabisch Hall.

The friends and Gunter’s brother, Walter, were first connected by phone and email in 2008 with help from the Red Cross San Francisco office and San Francisco Bay Area volunteer, Craig Knudsen.

The friends often talked about meeting, but family illnesses, distance and life circumstances made it difficult to meet. When Walter died last year, the friends decided it was time.

Although nearly 75 years had passed, Gunter Ullmann and Elfriede Hubner “caught up right where they left off,” wrote Peter Ullmann, in his account of the first day of the visit.

The childhood friends and their families took walks, ate meals together, visited museums, met with the mayor in the town where they grew up and shared memories.

“It gives you a good feeling to have a positive thing like this happen to you in old age,” said Gunter Ullmann before leaving for Germany. “It’s really tremendous what the Red Cross has done.”

For more on the reunion between Gunter Ullmann and Elfriede Hubner, watch the following video:

Reconnecting, Regardless

Story by Jon Dillon, Casework and Outreach Associate,  Washington, DC

Many people around the globe struggle against discrimination whether because of their race, religion, gender, or political opinion. I myself have felt the burn of being passed over and looked down upon solely because of sexual orientation. These biases are often engrained in our societies, which in turn, often produce people inclined to categorize groups into us and them, often with a negative slant or outcome toward the “them.”

Luckily, there are also people and societies that teach tolerance and acceptance of difference. For centuries, these crusaders have promoted the tenants of what we now call human rights. They have also built organizations and institutions whose work is either based on these notions of impartiality or to protect it.

The Red Cross Red Crescent Movement has enshrined impartiality as a fundamental principle, to “make no discrimination as to nationality, race, religious beliefs, class or political opinions. It endeavors to relieve the suffering of individuals, being guided solely by their needs and to give priority to the most urgent cases of distress.” This principle has allowed the organization to protect the lives of millions around the globe regardless of who they are.

In looking at the reconnecting families work of the Red Cross Red Crescent, there’s an obvious connection to impartiality. Everyone, regardless of who they are deserves and has the right to family. From reuniting a family separated by sectarian violence to maintaining communication between a detainee and his loved ones, the Movement puts aside the biases of our societies to meet the needs of individuals.

There is also a less obvious form of impartiality rooted in this work.  We reconnect families, but that word means many different things to different people because of culture and lived experience. Who are we to say the boy who helped you survive the concentration camps of World War II isn't family? Or the neighbors who raised you like you were their daughter? Or the friends who became family when your own kicked you out? And so we don’t. We take into consideration all the various forms family can take and reconnect those in need and want of communicating with their loved ones.

So in the end, the reconnecting families work of the Red Cross Red Crescent is in definition, impartial, along with in principle and practice. And going back to the Movement’s interpretation of impartiality, this stance truly allows us to be guided by the needs of those we serve, from the unaccompanied minor who lost his family’s contact information, to the Holocaust survivor hoping that beyond all odds another family member survived, to the wife separated from her husband by a typhoon. We will stand by you, and we will reconnect.