A Call to Action from Darfur Women Action Group

A Call to Action from Darfur Women Action Group

Thirteen years into Darfur’s catastrophe, civilian casualties increase each day while the world remains silent. Violence, rape, arrest and torture have devastated the lives of the innocent civilians in Darfur. Countless men, women, and children lose their lives while the living endure unimaginable suffering and have nowhere to turn. 

In spite of the alarming rate at which the violence continues to be perpetrated, world leaders have faced the situation in Darfur with silence. Those who have spoken up have not moved beyond words of condemnation. 2015 was a very difficult year for our people in Darfur and we were hopeful that 2016 might be different. Unfortunately, attacks continue at an alarming rate and the international community is, once again, failing Darfur.

Read More

Hand-Drawn Map Could be Key to Finding Long-Lost Family

Story & Video by Patricia Billinger, Communications Director, Denver, CO

When armed men stormed one 9-year-old's home town in Sudan, she fled for her life -- losing contact with her family.

Years later, after living in refugee camps and eventually making it safely to resettle in the United States, this girl -- now a young woman -- turned to the Red Cross for help seeking out the whereabouts of her long-lost family. Our local Restoring Family Links team took on her case.

Tracking down loved ones across thousands of miles and a decade of conflict is an immense challenge. Every clue can help narrow the search, and determining the specific, last-known whereabouts of family is an important key to starting the search.

In this case, the girl drew a rudimentary map of her memory of her home and where she last saw her family. In this video, we share the detective work our volunteers performed to turn that hand-drawn map into a solid clue to start the search.

For more stories from the American Red Cross Colorado & Wyoming Region, please check out their blog by clicking here. For more information about the reconnecting families work of the American Red Cross, please visit redcross.org/reconnectingfamilies or check out more stories on RestoringFamilyLinksBlog.com.

This Week in Restoring Family Links News 12/06/2014-12/12/2014

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.

Human Rights Day: December 10th marked the United Nations’ Human Rights Day, which commemorates the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations following World War II. The day is an opportune time to reflect on the human rights victories made since its adoption – from establishing the universality of rights for all human beings to laying the groundwork for conventions providing protection for women and children. However, it is also a day to examine the work that needs to be done to better ensure these human rights are provided. And as many news stories shared, 2014 was a horrific year for human rights violations. And while it is easy to despair while looking at the big picture, it’s also important to remember the everyday work and the small victories won by human rights defenders around the globe. By doing so, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights can be seen, not as a statement of victory, but as a hope for the future; a call to action for everyone to take a stand against impunity, violence, and inequality; a vision for what the world can become.

As a part of the Restoring Family Links team at the American Red Cross, I cannot pass on this opportunity to highlight the connections between the reconnecting families work of the Red Cross Movement and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 16 of the Declaration establishes the importance of and protections for the family unit. This basis has led to family connection and reunification to be included in several UN Conventions from the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (article 12), to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (articles 9, 10 and 22) and the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of all Migrants Workers and Members of Their Families (articles 4 and 44). This makes family reconnection work not only a mandate of International Humanitarian Law, but also a human rights imperative. So to all my fellow Restoring Family Links team members, I thank you for your work, not just as a humanitarian, but also as a human rights defender.

South Sudan: As the conflict in South Sudan marks its one-year anniversary, many humanitarians are worried about a possible escalation of violence. While the rainy season provided its own unique sets of challenges for providing humanitarian assistance and protection, it also limited fighting. Now that it is over, many are worried that the conflict will escalate. This could have dire consequences for the children of South Sudan who have already endured the brunt of the conflict. Attention this week was also paid to the effects the conflict has had on the nation’s wildlife, especially its elephant herds.

And despite the rather bleak news concerning the status of the conflict, there has been relatively positive news concerning international response. After months of refusing to recognize the South Sudanese crossing its borders as refugees, the government of Sudan has finally requested the UN to recognize them as such and therefore start providing them the assistance granted to persons with refugee status. Also, as the UN continues to debate sanctions against South Sudan that could include an arms embargo (which some see as a necessary step in de-escalating the conflict), there is a positive role the US government can play in ensuring it is passed.

Joining your Family - When a rickety boat is your only Choice

Story by Meron Estefanos, Co-founder of International Commission on Eritrean Refugees

I am often amazed by how far removed the policy world is from the realities of refugees and asylum seekers who find themselves caught up in the plethora of legislation, policies and practices that intertwine to make their access to safety almost impossible. From my conversations with hundreds of Eritrean refugees and asylum seekers caught up in navigating their way to safety, I have come to conclude that European immigration policies are experienced by refugees as yet another barrier they have to dodge, leading many to take illegal and often dangerous routes to attain the protection they are legally entitled to.

This is the case for many refugees who wish to join their families. For instance, some European countries only grant family reunification to people who possess a valid passport from their country of origin.

Fisseha (not his real name), a member of a political organization opposed to the regime in Eritrea, lives in France, where he has been granted asylum. His wife and daughter live in Sudan and are extremely anxious about the danger posed by the presence of agents of the Eritrean regime who have in the past kidnaped and forcefully returned people from Sudan to Eritrea.

Fisseha has been an open and prominent dissident of the regime and his family would never be granted an Eritrean passport in Sudan. Seeing no other option, his wife paid smugglers to put herself and her daughter on a boat departing from Libya on the 30 of June. Three months on, no one has been able to trace the boat. It vanished along with Fisseha’s family and over 250 others.

Fissesha’s family is not alone in this obstacle course. The plight of Hiryti, who I met through my work with victims of human trafficking in Sinai, started when being four months pregnant. She decided to join her husband in Israel. When she got to Sudan, she was kidnapped and the ransom demanded was $30,000.

Inevitably it took months for that kind of money to be collected by family and their networks and meanwhile she was tortured and gave birth to her son shackled. When she was eventually freed and made it to Israel, the Israelis deported her back to Egypt despite knowing that her husband was in the country. From Egypt, she was deported back to Eritrea.

No one survives that kind of pregnancy and birth without serious health complications. In addition, the financial resources of her entire family had been exhausted, but she remained determined to join her husband. Fearing the ordeal of being kidnaped again, Hiryti and her husband decided to invest in bribing Eritrean officials to get a passport and exit visa so she would be allowed to leave the country ‘legally.’

Little did they know, the UN Refugee Agency would consider that prudence as an indicator that Hiryti has no needs for protection under the refugee convention. She cannot go to Israel and her husband cannot go to Sudan either. Without a refugee card she was at risk of being arrested by Sudanese officials and being deported again to Eritrea. Hiryti is now left with a single option: attempting to go through Libya and cross the Mediterranean into Europe.  

Every year, many more families are forced to attempt dangerous and illegal routes where together with corrupt officials and unscrupulous smugglers and traffickers, European and international policies and practices are endangering the lives of the very people they are meant to protect. There is a need for coherent immigration and asylum policies and for that, the experiences of people genuinely in need of international protection have to be taken into account.

This article originally appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 3 October 2014. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.

From Death Threats in Sudan to a new life as Refugees

Mohammed and his family with Melanie Thomas, from the British Red Cross

Mohammed and his family with Melanie Thomas, from the British Red Cross

Story by Sophie Offord, British Red Cross

Mohammed was a lawyer who loved his job. But when he started to receive death threats, he was forced to flee his home country of Sudan. He had to leave his wife and young sons behind.

Thanks to the British Red Cross, they are now back together again – and rebuilding their lives as a family.

High-risk work

Mohammed, 41, is married to Safa and has two sons – Ahmed and Amjed, now aged five and two. They all lived in the South Darfur region in Sudan. Mohammed had spent his career helping those affected by conflict and human rights issues. He had worked at organizations including the American Refugee Committee, Oxfam and the United Nations.

However, in 2009, all the international aid organizations in Sudan were expelled by the country’s president. “Things were very difficult,” remembers Mohammed. “Partner organizations were closed down and threats were made against those associated with this kind of work.”

Mohammed left Darfur and went to Kampala, the largest city in Uganda. He stayed there for almost seven months – but the situation was as bad as Sudan. He decided to return to his wife and children.

The threats continue

Mohammed began working for the United Nations once more. But as violence intensified and the threats continued, Mohammed knew that he would soon have to leave the country again.

“I came to Birmingham in April 2013 on a business trip,” he says. “By that point, my situation in Sudan had become so severe that I faced no option but to stay in the UK. I applied for asylum and was granted refugee status.”

Alone in the UK

The heart-wrenching decision of leaving his wife and two sons, and the job he loved, was incredibly difficult for Mohammed. He made his way to Cardiff, where he moved in with a friend until he was able to find something more permanent. But accommodation was the least of his worries.

“My immediate concern was how to be reunited with my family,” he remembers. “I knew that the Red Cross supports refugees, so I contacted the British Red Cross in Cardiff as soon as I was able, to see if I could be supported by their travel assistance scheme.”

If a refugee meets certain criteria, the Red Cross will cover their travel costs so they can be legally reunited with their relatives or overseas relatives. After a year apart, Mohammed’s family arrived at Heathrow airport.

Reunited at last

“It was wonderful to see my wife and children again after being separated for so long,” says Mohammed. “It was very hard for Safa to leave her family behind in Sudan but we have plans for the future and we are safe here in Cardiff.

“We are slowly making a life in Wales. I am applying for jobs at the UN and other aid agencies. Safa will soon be attending English lessons and would like to continue her studies in the field of psychology and psycho-social support. Ahmed will be returning to school in September and Amjed is growing quickly, so we have lots to focus on.”

Helping other refugees

Mohammed is also volunteering once a week with the Red Cross at its destitution center, for refugees who are struggling to meet their needs or get enough food to eat.

“I am in contact with other refugees all the time, so I understand their needs and I know I have a great amount to offer other people in a similar situation to my own,” he explains. “I want to volunteer with the Red Cross because I have lots of experience and understand first-hand what it is like to be supported by the charity.”

Building a new life

Despite his volunteering role and his plans for the future, Mohammed’s thoughts often turn to his friends and relatives who are still in Sudan. “It was very hard leaving loved ones in Sudan – but there wouldn’t have been a life here either, without my family.

“The British Red Cross travel assistance scheme was vital in bringing our family together again.”

For more stories from the British Red Cross, please visit their blog by clicking here