This Week in Restoring Family Links News 05/09/2015 - 05/15/2015

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.

Migrants rest inside a shelter after being rescued from boats at Lhoksukon in Indonesia's Aceh Province (Roni Bintang/Reuters)

Migrants rest inside a shelter after being rescued from boats at Lhoksukon in Indonesia's Aceh Province (Roni Bintang/Reuters)

Rohingya Migration Crisis: This week, the plight of over 1,000 refugees seeking asylum in Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia came to the forefront in the news. The refugees are reported by officials as being a mix of Bangladeshis and ethnic Rohingya, a persecuted and stateless minority living in western Myanmar and eastern Bangladesh. These men, women, and children flee persecution and poverty, making the long and often dangerous journey by wooden boat through the Andaman Sea.

The three nations where people have sought asylum have all attempted to push the refugees back to the sea, saying they have done enough to help the persecuted minority and that they have to do more to protect their borders. Many organizations, including Human Rights Watch, have called on these nations to end these pushbacks and provide the asylum seekers with the protection and aid that they desperately need. While thousands have attempted to make it to shore, it is feared that thousands more remain stranded in rickety boats with nowhere to go. International law continues to debate how to best address the needs of stateless persons, and whether these persons can be recognized under current refugee law.

Darrin Zammit Lupi/Files/Courtesy Reuters

Darrin Zammit Lupi/Files/Courtesy Reuters

Migration in Europe: As the European Union continues to see an increase in migration across the Mediterranean, several proposals have been put forward to address the humanitarian crisis. One would address the uneven burden of meeting the needs of the migrants. As the majority of migrants cross from Libya, Italy has struggled to meet their protection needs. The proposal would distribute 20,000 migrants a year among EU nations based on the country’s current population and capacity for providing protection to asylum seekers. This proposal has been promoted by Germany, whereas other nations that would receive a large percentage of the 20,000, such as the UK, have rejected this solution. Another proposed solution involves using military force against smugglers; however, many immigration advocates have warned that such actions could further endanger the lives of migrants. The Red Cross has urged for a humanitarian approach to addressing the crisis.

Nepal military personnel and earthquake survivors search for belongings in collapsed houses in Sankhu, on the outskirts of Kathmandu (Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters)

Nepal military personnel and earthquake survivors search for belongings in collapsed houses in Sankhu, on the outskirts of Kathmandu (Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters)

Nepal Update: On April 25, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck 48 miles NW of Kathmandu, Nepal, affecting an estimated 8 million people across 39 districts in Nepal’s West and Central Regions.  The earthquake resulted in more than 8,300 deaths, injured 17,800 people, and damaged or destroyed more than 500,000 houses.  Initial U.N. assessments have found that more than 90 percent of houses were destroyed in Sindhupalchok and Gorkha districts.

On May 12, a second major earthquake—of magnitude 7.3—struck 47 miles NE of Kathmandu, affecting 32 districts, including those still recovering from the April 25 earthquake.  The government of Nepal had confirmed 117 deaths and more than 1,900 people injured as of May 15.  Additional damage to houses and buildings also occurred as a result of the second earthquake.

Although humanitarian aid is now reaching many of the communities affected by the April 25 earthquake, access remains a challenge for some of the worst affected areas, particularly remote communities north of Kathmandu.  Debris removal remains a top priority in districts affected by the May 12 earthquake, as landslides have damaged roads and rendered some areas inaccessible. Many people displaced by the earthquakes are currently living outdoors in cold, wet conditions.  Additional disaster risks are also complicating response operations; many earthquake-affected areas are at continued risk of landslides and aftershocks, and heavy rains have occurred in some locations.

The earthquakes damaged schools and health facilities, limited access to water and sanitation, and left an estimated 3.5 million people in need of food assistance. Sustained relief and recovery efforts are required before the next monsoon season which is forecasted to begin in several weeks.  The Government of Nepal has identified shelter, health care provision, food, and water, sanitation and hygiene as key priorities for the response.

The American Red Cross has contributed $5 million to the response. The American Red Cross has also deployed a total of 11 disaster specialists and is providing relief supplies to support the response.  The American Red Cross is working closely with the Nepal Red Cross and the IFRC to coordinate additional support.

The Full Circle of Generosity

Collapsed houses and debris on steep terraced hillsides in Nuwakot are seen from a helicopter (Danish Siddiqui/Reuters)

Collapsed houses and debris on steep terraced hillsides in Nuwakot are seen from a helicopter (Danish Siddiqui/Reuters)

Story by Mary VanderGoot, Restoring Family Links Mentor, Grand Rapids, Michigan

On Saturday, May 9, the Nepali Speaking Bhutanese Community of Grand Rapids, Michigan gathered for a vigil to remember the victims of the recent earthquake in Nepal.  They met in a space offered to them by a church in the neighborhood in which many of them live. After lighting traditional candles, observing a minute of silence, and playing the National Anthem of Nepal, speakers came forward to express their concern and sympathy for the people of Nepal. They also announced that within their small community they had collected nearly $5000, which they are giving to the American Red Cross to support the relief efforts.

As recently as 2008, most of the persons gathered for the vigil were themselves refugees in camps in Nepal where they lived for nearly twenty years. Through the UN Refugee Agency’s resettlement program refugees from the Nepali Speaking Bhutanese Community have now found new homes in nine different countries. 75,000 of them have settled in the United States, and the friends and neighbors from the community with whom we met in Grand Rapids are part of that group.

Member of the community gather in support of those affected by the earthquake in Nepal.

Member of the community gather in support of those affected by the earthquake in Nepal.

Their empathy for the people of Nepal today rises out of experience, and it was amazingly generous. They know what it is like to face a day without being certain of where to find food or clean water. They too have spent dark nights without a shelter to call home and sometimes without as much as a blanket to cover themselves.

Speakers from the community shared their own stories of losing home and belongings when their Lhotsampa community faced involuntary migration after the government of Bhutan denied their legal status in 1992. One young man told how his mother fled to Nepal with her young children. At the end of their harrowing trip they needed to cross a river, and only with the help of others was his mother able to make it across because her children were too small to make it on their own.  He understands, he said, what it means to survive because others offered a helping hand.

Several speakers recollected the days when they entered the refugee camps at the border in Nepal. They were without food and water. They were weary and many were sick. They had no home to go to, and they had no homes to which they could return. They recalled that the Red Cross was there to help them in those most difficult days, and to this day the familiar logo of the Red Cross is a reminder of hope during times of distress. It was the people of Nepal who gave them refuge, and the speakers emphasized that now the Nepali people need our help and encouragement.

The Nepali Speaking Bhutanese Community continue working to make a new home in a new country. They have not forgotten their own hard journey, and they have not forgotten the people of Nepal who helped them along the way. Their vigil and their contribution to the American Red Cross relief effort for Nepal is a touching example of the full circle of generosity.

Connecting Colorado Nepali Community to Information and Family in Wake of Earthquake

Story by Denver, Colorado Communications Team

Following the earthquake in Nepal, at least 50 Colorado residents who have ties to Nepal and surrounding countries gathered at the Asian Pacific Development Center in Aurora to seek information about international relief efforts.

About 50 people gather at the APDC to find out more about Nepal Earthquake disaster relief efforts.

About 50 people gather at the APDC to find out more about Nepal Earthquake disaster relief efforts.

Colorado Red Cross staff presented about Red Cross efforts in response to the earthquake, how people here can help, and how they can use Red Cross Restoring Family Links services to contact loved ones in the affected areas.

The global Red Cross network, led by the Nepal Red Cross and supported by the American Red Cross, has mounted an international response to provide emergency humanitarian assistance.  The Nepal Red Cross is providing first aid, search and rescue, blood to medical facilities in the capital and support to first responders.

The American Red Cross has committed an initial $1,000,000 to the relief operation and is working closely with the Nepal Red Cross and the global Red Cross network to coordinate additional support, including mobilizing supplies and providing remote mapping and information management. The American Red Cross is arranging supplies from its warehouses in Kuala Lumpar and Dubai, including non-food items such as tarps, buckets, kitchen sets and blankets to be sent to Nepal -- although logistical transport remains a challenge.

The APDC provided live interpretation for  immigrants and refugees from Nepal.

The APDC provided live interpretation for 
immigrants and refugees from Nepal.

Members of the audience raised their concerns about getting supplies to the families who need help, wondering how they could send tents from Colorado and whether relief supplies are “stuck” at the airport.  Our local Red Cross staff answered candidly: mailing supplies, in small quantities, from this far away, is not the most efficient way to help those in Nepal – it is more cost effective and efficient for aid agencies to get tarps, tents and other high-demand supplies by purchasing them in bulk from the nearest source to the disaster, or by receiving them as bulk donations.

According to USAID, cash donations are the best way to help following a disaster because they entail no transportation costs, no delays, no customs and other fees, no carbon footprint and they do not divert relief workers’ time. In addition, cash donations allow relief supplies to be purchased in markets close to the disaster site, which stimulates local economies by stabilizing employment and generating cash flow.  Few material donations have this highly beneficial impact.

Audience members wanted to know  how to help families in Nepal.

Audience members wanted to know 
how to help families in Nepal.

In terms of delivering supplies, it can be challenging to reach survivors when infrastructure is destroyed, damaged – or never existed. Accessibility and transportation are challenging in Nepal in the best of times. Before the earthquake, many rural communities where the Nepal Red Cross worked were only accessible by foot. The main international airport in Kathmandu is a very basic facility. With the destruction, this situation is even more dire and getting supplies and transporting them within country is going to be a major challenge.

One way the American Red Cross is helping to alleviate this challenge is through mapping and information management. The public can help, too. Anyone with a computer and an internet connection can help map the affected areas through OpenStreetMap. Already, more than 2,000 people have contributed to the maps. Visit http://tasks.hotosm.org to get started.

After disasters strike, updated maps are extremely important to emergency responders. These maps help us measure the damage, identify priority areas, navigate our way around damaged roadways, and more efficiently deliver aid to people in need. When we deployed people to Nepal, we sent them with maps to use and share with other Red Cross team members on the ground.

The audience members maintain close ties to their homeland.

The audience members maintain close ties to their homeland.

Although many of the people who attended the meeting were most concerned about how they can help Nepal, Red Cross workers were also focused on how we can help alleviate their anxiety and fear by helping them reconnect with loved ones in Nepal and the affected areas.

The Red Cross workers explained how residents here in Colorado can initiate a family tracing case for loved ones whose whereabouts are unknown, and how we will be offering phone call services for those who know their loved ones are OK but don’t have a means to call them from Denver.

Find out more about the ongoing Red Cross response to the Nepal Earthquake at redcross.org. For individuals looking for family who live in the affected area, visit http://familylinks.icrc.org/nepal-earthquake. Help is also available for those who can't access the web site by calling 202-303-1600.

This Week in Restoring Family Links News 04/25/2015 - 05/01/2015

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.

Nepal Earthquake: On April 25, 2015 a magnitude 7.8 earthquake hit Nepal. The quake is the largest to hit Nepal since 1934 and has caused significant destruction and loss of life. At least 50 aftershocks, ranging from magnitude 5 to 6.7, caused further damage to buildings and increased the risk of collapse.  Communications is limited. Hospitals continue to function but are stretched to the limits.

The global Red Cross network, led by the Nepal Red Cross Society (NPRS), has mounted an international response to provide emergency humanitarian assistance following the earthquake. NPRS has extensive experience in responding to natural disasters and plays a leading role in the government’s contingency plan, is providing first aid, search and rescue, blood to medical facilities in the capital and support to first responders. In addition, the Red Cross is helping reconnect families separated by the disaster. The NPRS with the support of the International Committee of the Red Cross has stood up a website to search for family or register them as missing. The site is available in both English and Nepali.

Interested in supporting the work of the Red Cross in their response to the earthquake? Here are three great ways to get involved:

GIVE: To help those affected by the Nepal Earthquake, visit redcross.org, text ‘NEPAL’ to 90999 or contact your local chapter.

MAP: To help with critical mapping efforts, visit http://tasks.hotosm.org. No experience is needed, just a computer and internet connection.

SHARE: Spread the word on relief efforts and ways to help online. Find and share information on social channels, including the IFRC's Twitter account and American Red Cross Facebook and Twitter posts. If you cannot contact a loved one in Nepal or know someone else who has lost contact due to the Nepal Earthquake, please share the ICRC Family Links Website.

ECDC Conference: Every year, the Ethiopian Community Development Council (ECDC) hosts a conference looking at refugee and immigrant issues in the US with a particular focus on African newcomers. The conference is a great opportunity to learn about the latest trends in refugee resettlement and the latest efforts to meet the needs of refugee and migrant communities both in the US and globally. The Restoring Family Links team had a strong presence there with representatives from both national headquarters and the chapter network. The outreach team also presented on using social engagement to build relationships with partner organizations and refugee communities. Highlights from the conference can be found on the Family Links Twitter feed.

For Refugees, Trauma Doesn't End with Escape from Persecution

Story by Patricia Billinger, Communications Director, Denver, Colorado

Refugees face repeated traumas, challenges and upheavals. First, they witness – or are targets of – violence in their home country that is so threatening that they must abandon everything they have and flee. Many of us who have never known violent political and social upheaval erroneously assume that refugees leave the source of their trauma and fear behind when they seek refuge. 

However, for many the journey is just beginning. Some spend decades in refugee camps, where life can hover on the brink of subsistence. Even those who ultimately resettle in the relative safety of places like Colorado continue to face challenges. 

Some refugees escape with their lives but with injuries; other refugees suffer less visible injuries such as PTSD. This man, internally displaced in Iraq, lost both his legs to a mine explosion.

Some refugees escape with their lives but with injuries; other refugees suffer less visible injuries such as PTSD. This man, internally displaced in Iraq, lost both his legs to a mine explosion.

“The most common diagnoses we see are PTSD, adjustment disorder, different anxiety disorders and depression,” said Laura Poole, Behavioral Health and Wellness Program Coordinator for the Asian Pacific Development Center (APDC)

Laura and her colleagues at the APDC work closely with refugees who have resettled to Colorado on a wide range of needs, from finding jobs and learning how to use the bus system to emotional counseling to address the health and mental health consequences of a lifetime of trauma, stress and uncertainty.

Setu Nepal, an APDC colleague who is a refugee from Bhutan, personally knows the challenging path that refugees travel. In 1990, he had earned his bachelor’s degree, had a good job working for the Bhutanese department of health and had started a family when political forces within the Bhutanese government began persecuting ethnic and religious minorities. 

Setu was forced to flee to a refugee camp in Nepal with his family, including his 5-year-old, 3-year-old and infant children. He spent the next two decades in the refugee camp, initially barely scraping by to survive. “I had a very difficult time to raise my children in camp, having nothing in my pocket and depending on begging,” Setu recalled. 

Eventually, thanks to his education, he was able to secure work at a school in Nepal and support his family. But many other refugees have no such option. Confined to a camp, unable to find work – often not allowed to seek work – and unable to return home, they face a new set of psycho-social challenges, Laura explained. Some children born and raised in refugee camps know no other sense of home or normalcy. 

Separation from family adds to the stress refugees experience. The Red Cross works to reunite refugees separated from their families, such as this boy who was reunited with his parentsin Jordan.

Separation from family adds to the stress refugees experience. The Red Cross works to reunite refugees separated from their families, such as this boy who was reunited with his parentsin Jordan.

Those who are able to leave the camps to move to countries that have opened up refugee resettlement face yet another series of challenges that can cause fear, anxiety and depression. They are immersed in a completely new culture, with a language they likely don’t speak or read; those who had low levels of literacy in their native tongue struggle even more to adapt to a society so dependent on reading and writing. Some come from rural societies and suddenly have to adjust to an urban setting. And the learned dependency of camps can have lasting consequences, especially for refugees resettling into the American cultural world of self-reliance and independence. 

Organizations like the APDC help these refugees to navigate the cultural transition and work to ease the sources of anxiety and trauma.

The Red Cross partners with the APDC to help with one important aspect of refugees’ resettlement and emotional health: reconnecting them with family they left behind. Refugees in Colorado can initiate a Family Tracing inquiry with the Red Cross to seek the whereabouts and try to re-establish communications with loved ones. Sometimes these are family members they last saw while at a refugee camp, while other times they are looking for closure on loved ones who disappeared during violence in their country.

“They have experienced so much loss and so much trauma. Being able to get back in touch with far-distant family or find out what happened to a loved one provides some peace of mind,” said Tim Bothe, International Services Manager for the Red Cross of Colorado and Wyoming.

Many Bhutanese refugees are now also concerned about family members who may have been affected by the earthquake in Nepal. The International Committee of the Red Cross has stood up their Family Link website to help loved ones affected by the disaster reconnect. To search for family or register them as missing, please visit their website by clicking here.