This Week in Restoring Family Links News 06/15/2015 - 06/19/2015

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.

Syria: Over the weekend, Kurdish fighters in Tel Abyad, Syria disrupted a major ISIS supply line at the Turkish border, and though considered a victory for the ISIS opposition, the fighting created a flood of new Syrian refugees in Turkey. On Tuesday, over 23,000 refugees piled at the Akcakale border crossing into Turkey, with 70% of them women and children. Initially, Turkish authorities resisted entry into the country, but the pressure proved too overwhelming. As of this week, Turkey now hosts 1.7 million Syrian refugees, while Lebanon and Jordan stand close behind with just under 1.3 million between the two. In a report entitled, “Global Refugee Crisis: A Conspiracy of Neglect” by Amnesty International, Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, after having taken in more than four million Syrians since the conflict started in 2011, are now reportedly closing their borders.

BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images

In light of these events, Amnesty International called for the international community to reorient refugee strategies, claiming global response has been “dismal” to the crisis. Since 2011, Turkey has spent over $6 billion on aid for refugees, and along with Lebanon and Jordan, stated that the refugees have severely burdened its economy.

For Syria, the conflict rages on as numbers continue to escalate – perhaps most alarming is that 50% of Syria’s population is currently displaced. However, the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, a part of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent societies, holds it won’t give up. Despite disaster, it still fights on. 

JEAN CHRISTOPHE MAGNENET/Getty Images

Migration to Europe: Last week, we covered the eye-opening realities of the thousands of migrants who have journeyed from North Africa across the Mediterranean Sea to seek refuge in Europe. This week, the EU faces several new risks and decisions, as many migrants have been on the ground for several days. Talks in Luxembourg failed to produce a plan to divide refugees evenly between the 28 nations in the EU. The UK is due to withdrawal its Navy Ship that has patrolled the waters of the Mediterranean for weeks to rescue migrants in danger, and the pressure is on Italy to respond quickly, as they have received 54,000 migrants so far this month, especially along the Italian-French border of Ventimiglia. For some Italian authorities, the pressure proved to be extensive, as reports of violence, excessive force, and separated families circulated in the news.

In response to the migrant influx, Italian Red Cross is providing services at central train stations of Milan, Rome and Ventimiglia where hundreds of migrants congregate each day. The Red Cross is providing emergency health services in each station, as well as assisting through interpreters. Also, this week, the Red Cross established a ‘tent city’ in Rome, which can provide shelter for over 200 people. For weeks, the Italian Red Cross urged for aid from France, and on Wednesday, France announced plans to construct over 10,000 housing units for migrants. 

Father's Day: Every year, the Red Cross helps thousands reconnect with their loved ones after separation due to conflict. Father’s Day is just around the corner, and the Red Cross has helped families and individuals from all over the world reconnect with their fathers. Here are a few stories to keep in mind this Sunday:

April: During the onset of World War II, Michael Chudik left his hometown in Poland for the United States, leaving his entire family behind. When battles erupted close to Michael’s family’s town, his family was forced to relocate to Ukraine, and the family lost contact with each other for over 60 years. Finally, Michael’s daughter, Dorothy, reached out to the American Red Cross in hopes of discovering what happened to her father and the rest of her family. With the help of the Red Cross, Dorothy and her cousin John were able to reconnect with their family in Ukraine, and Dorothy held her father’s legacy close to her heart. Read the full story here.

May: Cuban native Nelson Perez was hopeful to make a new life for himself in Tampa, Florida, but he had to do it alone. When Perez attempted to bring his daughters over from Cuba, it turned unsuccessful, and as the years went by, they lost contact. A few years ago, one of his daughters, Mercedes, reached out to the Cuban Red Cross in hopes to finally be reunited with her father. Within time, the Red Cross found Perez in Tennessee, and he was thrilled to hear his daughters’ voices again after so many years. Now, Perez and his two daughters are in constant contact, with a family reunion in the works. Read the full story here.

May: Thu-Thuy Truong, Board Secretary for the Red Cross Silicon Valley Chapter and Restoring Family Links Advocate, was 13 at the time when she and thousands of other Vietnamese fled during the fall of Saigon. The Red Cross chapter in Denver, Colorado welcomed Thu-Thuy Truong as a guest speaker to talk about traumatizing events during the fall of Saigon, as well as how the Red Cross helped reconnect her family with their father, from whom they were separated during the incident. Check out her beautiful story here.

Everyone deserves to celebrate Father’s Day this year with loved ones. If you or someone you know has lost contact with a father, the Red Cross can help you reconnect. For more information on the reconnecting families services of the Red Cross or to start your search today, please visit redcross.org/reconnectingfamilies.

A First-Hand Refugee Experience

Israeli bombing of Beirut, 2006.

Israeli bombing of Beirut, 2006.

Story by Shannon Vance, SAF and International Services Intern, Peoria, IL

It was the summer of 2006 and Allen Ghareeb, a current 22-year-old medical student, had been living in the United States for about four years. Originally from Beirut, Lebanon, Allen’s parents decided it was best to raise their children in the United States. They made sure to stay close with the family they had left behind in Lebanon by visiting every summer. It was during one of these visits that Allen experienced first-hand what most Americans only hear about on the news. At the age of 13, he was in a refugee situation.

Hezbollah, an Islamist militant group based in Lebanon, had kidnapped two Israeli soldiers. Hours later, Allen and his family first started to hear the bombs drop. Quickly they realized something bigger than expected was happening. In retaliation, the Israeli government had begun dropping bombs over Beirut. They were given 24 hours to evacuate the city and spent the next week fleeing from place to place around Lebanon.

As the bombing became worse, the roadways out of the country were destroyed and the airport was attacked. “We realized it was time to leave Beirut when it got to the point where, when my little sister was sleeping, we would have to cover her entire body with blankets to protect her from the shattered glass from the bomb impacts.” His family fled to the western coast in order to avoid the majority of the danger. A few days later, when the bombing died down, his family headed to the US Embassy to seek help. 

Only allowed one duffel bag for five people, the Ghareeb’s were told they would be evacuated on a military helicopter eight hours later. From there, they would be flown to the island nation of Cyprus. “Since it happened so fast, we couldn’t say goodbye to the majority of our family. [It was] really upsetting since the war made [us] question when the next time we would see them was.”

Shuffled from a crowded helicopter to a convention center filled with cots, Allen remembers being given a plastic toothbrush. “It was then that I felt like a refugee for the first time. We were dirty, scared, tired and didn’t really know what to expect.” They had officially joined the waiting list of people to be flown back to the US.

After two weeks of being surrounded by uncertainty, destruction and death, Allen and his family made it back to the United States. Because they were the only ones with US citizenship, the rest of his Lebanese family had to stay behind and fight to make it through the conflict. “I lost a cousin during an airstrike close to the Syrian border. It is definitely an unsettling feeling when you have to leave the rest of your family in danger. There is a sense of guilt associated with that.”

Referring to himself as a “neo-refugee,” Allen recognizes just how uniquely lucky he was. He had another country to help him back to safety. Many refugees, in Lebanon and elsewhere, do not have this luxury. Being able to call the United States home afforded him a certain sense of protection that he is extremely grateful for. His passport gave him rights and privileges most of his family didn’t have. 

While Allen’s family might not have needed the help of the American Red Cross, thousands of refugees every year do. The Restoring Family Links program provides families that have been separated by an international disaster or conflict one of the things they need the most: a way to communicate with family members they have lost touch with.