This Week in Restoring Family Links News 10/19/2015 - 10/23/2015

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 Neutrality: This week the Restoring Family Links Blog highlighted the Red Cross Red Crescent Fundamental Principle of Neutrality. This Principle ensures that the Movement will not “take sides in hostilities or engage at any time in controversies of a political, racial, religious or ideological nature.” This stance has generated many myths about what the Red Cross can and cannot do, first and foremost, that if an issue, for instance migration, is politicized, the Movement cannot take action. Yet, neutrality is not meant to dictate what the Red Cross does, but how it does it.

Around the globe, the Red Cross puts politics aside to meet the humanitarian needs of the most vulnerable. From providing medical aid in Syria, to helping migrants and refugees in Europe, to providing phone calls for children separated from their families along the US-Mexico border, the Movement is there to protect humanity, no matter how an issue may be politicized.

Refugees arrive on a dinghy after crossing from Turkey to Lesbos island, Greece. Photo: AP

Refugees arrive on a dinghy after crossing from Turkey to Lesbos island, Greece. Photo: AP

Migration in Europe: Migration in Europe continued to dominate the news this week, from criticisms of inaction and wrong-doing, to meetings on how to move forward, to looking at what governments and organizations are doing right. This week the UN slammed the Czech Republic for their treatment of migrants and refugees in detention. Several reports showed that dehumanizing treatment wasn't coincidental or an unfortunate consequence of an overwhelmed system, but systematic. The Czech government has been urged to reform their detention policies. Meanwhile, the recent closure of Hungary’s border has once more altered migration routes to go through Slovenia. Human Rights Watch researcher has criticized many EU nations for passing off responsibility for protecting refugees and migrants, and essentially, “playing a game of hot potato with human beings.”

Meanwhile, many organizations and governments across Europe continue to address the crisis. Red Cross Societies met this week to find humanitarian solutions as well as discuss how humanitarian policy should be shaped to better serve the needs of those in the midst of the population movement. Following last week’s EU summit, European Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker, this week called for another meeting of heads of state to push humanitarian solutions to the crisis.

And not everything is doom and gloom in Europe. The work of humanitarian organizations such as the Red Cross and the International Organization for Migration continues to ensure migrants and refugees have access to medical care, shelter, and communication with their families. As winter fast approaches, many organizations and governments are also working to address the seasonal needs of these displaced populations. The role private companies have taken in funding the response was also highlighted this week, as well as a call for the sector to take a greater role, at least monetarily.

One story that doesn't really fit in with the other topics, but I think is worth highlighting, is the number of Eritrean migrants that make up Europe’s current crisis. For years, thousands have been fleeing the corruption, poverty, and human rights abuses of Eritrea. For the nation’s size, it is playing an extremely large role, with 1 in 50 Eritreans seeking protection in Europe. This is important to highlight because it emphasizes the global nature of addressing the root causes of the situation. We can’t work to just end the war in Syria, but must fix global systems of injustice, inequality, and human rights abuses.

North Korean Son Kwon Geun, center, weeps with his South Korean relatives as he says goodbye to them on Thursday, Oct. 22, 2015. Photo: AP

North Korean Son Kwon Geun, center, weeps with his South Korean relatives as he says goodbye to them on Thursday, Oct. 22, 2015. Photo: AP

Korean Family Reunions: Finally, the first of two waves of reunions for families separated by the Korean War in the 1950s took place in a North Korean resort at Mount Kumgang. The reunions are a triumph in humanitarian diplomacy as they are the first reunions to take place in over a year-and-a-half and were threatened to be cancelled on a number of occasions by North Korea. The emotional meetings allow families that have been separated for six decades to meet once again. As the majority of this population is aging, this is most likely the last time they will see one another. Questions about these reunions? A great article was published providing answers to some of the most common questions.

From Myths to Action: Leveraging Neutrality to Serve Humanity

Yesterday, Nadia Kalinchuk's blog on the Red Cross Red Crescent Fundamental Principle of Neutrality debunked the common myths surrounding this principle. In short, it showed that neutrality is not an excuse to observe, but a call to act in order to protect the most vulnerable. This stance of neutrality has enabled the American Red Cross to play a more significant role in the realm of migration, especially through reconnecting and maintaining family communication.

Last year during the unaccompanied minor migrant crisis, we were able to help thousands of children detained along the US-Mexico border call their families. It was a simple service, but it helped provide a needed peace of mind for both the children and their families. Check out the following blog written by a Red Crosser who deployed to help reconnect child migrants with their families.

Story by Jonathan Custer, Training Coordinator, Washington, DC

There are two things you should know about me: First, I crave the heat. Summers in Washington, DC don’t faze me at all. The hotter it is, the happier I am. Second, I love seeing new places. Ever since living in Venezuela back in the 1990s, I’ve had the itch to see as much of the world as possible. So when the opportunity arose for me to go to Nogales, AZ, I was excited to take it. I had never been to the southwestern United States and what better place to feel the heat than Arizona in July?

But mixed with this excitement was a tad bit of fear and a lot of uncertainty. My reason for going to Nogales was to support a program of the American Red Cross that provided phone calls for unaccompanied children along the border.

I had seen the news reports and heard about how things were in that particular facility from other colleagues who had gone down before me.  I wasn’t sure how I would react to seeing first-hand the situation in which these kids found themselves. But I couldn’t pass up the chance to lend a hand.

And so I went.

The first day was rather overwhelming. Well over 500 kids were being held in chain-link holding cells, all wearing the same plain white tees and blue gym shorts, and waiting for something to do. Anything. I was told what to expect, but it was still sad to see.

They were brought in groups of about 32 and given a short amount of time to call relatives back in their country of origin and inside the United States. Many times, the smiles and exuberant energy the kids had upon sitting in front of the phone quickly turned to sobs and tears as they heard the voices of loved ones. Still, a few of the kids confided in me that it was, by far, their favorite part of the day. By the second and third day, I got a few waves from boys and girls that recognized me from the day(s) before. Even though our contact was limited, a small connection was already made.

At the end of each day, I took some time to think about what these kids must have been through. Not only since arriving in the US, but their entire journey to get here as well. I couldn’t imagine it. I was struck by the resilience these young people (some as young as five years old) exhibited. They have gone through a lot and still smile, have a sense of humor, and keep their heads up. At the age of 33, I’m not even sure I have the strength to go through what they’ve endured.

In the grand scheme of things, the assistance I helped provide may seem small. However, the appreciation these kids showed was amazing. So grateful. So polite. On second thought, maybe a phone call isn’t so small. To these kids and their families, it was huge.

I got to see a new place and I got more than enough heat (it’s confirmed that southern Arizona is hot). More importantly, though, was that I was able to hand a phone to a kid and let them have the best part of their day.

Myth Busting the Red Cross Principle of Neutrality

Story by Nadia Kalinchuk, Migration Focal Point, Washington, DC

In the time I have been at the Red Cross, the fundamental principle that I go back to time and time again is neutrality.  Working in the field of migration, an issue which can be highly politicized, it is integral to stay grounded in neutrality, while also remaining keenly attuned to the principle of humanity. 

In fact, one colleague from the Austrian Red Cross once explained neutrality as being interpreted through the lens of humanity and impartiality.  When I sat down to write this, I thought of what I would have wanted to know about neutrality on that first day at the Red Cross, and of how neutrality has influenced the work I have engaged in thus far.  In particular, I want to bust the myths around neutrality, providing clarity on this principle and connecting it to the importance of humanitarian diplomacy. Myths are everywhere in our language and actions, making it important to understand and debunk them.

Myth #1: Neutrality means removing yourself and your voice from difficult to navigate, often politicized situations. 

I recall a time, when I first started, when I thought that neutrality meant disengagement.  In the space of migration in particular, where the movement of people can be highly politicized (even in terminology), it felt as if migration was one of those sticky topics that one would ask or question our neutrality.  Upon further inspection, I learned through stories of migrants and the work being done by other National Societies that the humanitarian consequences of migration spoke for themselves.  Migration was/is being politicized, and my job is to engage and hone in on these consequences, keeping intact the discussions which seek to protect humanitarian values.

Myth #2: Neutrality means I am merely an observer, providing the objectivity needed to maintain access to vulnerable people.

We have chosen not to let ourselves be cornered by the binary logic of silence vs. denunciation, which inevitably leads to paralysis.
— Peter Mauer, President of the ICRC

Again, this treats neutrality as an end, a binary value in and of itself.  I recall again the words of my colleague, “you can be neutral because you are a coward, or neutral because you are a hero and want to be available to vulnerable people.  Neutrality, in contrast to humanity and impartiality does not tell us what to do, but how to do it to remain operational.”

Myth #3: Neutrality means the Red Cross has no opinion on anything….ever.

This is simply not true.  The Humanitarian Diplomacy Policy of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement states that the collective forces of National Societies are an integral voice in relation to many of the world’s humanitarian challenges, making it a valued voice, which must be heard as much as possible.

Myth #4:  Advocacy is a bad word.

Today, the big question is not whether to speak out but how, when, and to whom we should speak on what, in order to further our objective of preserving human dignity and enlarging space for humanitarian action.
— Peter Maurer, President of the ICRC, 28 April 2015, Geneva, Switzerland

Humanitarian diplomacy, or advocacy, is an imperative (see above).  United Nations has reported that “while the total amount received from donors for humanitarian action has increased in recent years, available resources continue to lag behind the growing numbers of people requiring assistance. Donors provided some $8.7 billion to support humanitarian action in 2013–a tremendous amount, but which still left an estimated $5.3 billion in unmet needs.” 

These numbers indicate that the humanitarian needs in the world need more voices rising, not hiding behind a principle. In an area where there is peace, our National Society, the American Red Cross, must act on the principles of humanity and impartiality first and foremost, while remaining vigilant on issues of neutrality.