This Week in Restoring Family Links News 2/29/16 - 3/4/16

This Week in Restoring Family Links News 2/29/16 - 3/4/16

On February 23, the Macedonian government tightened its immigration restrictions on those entering the country from Greece by reclassifying those coming from Afghanistan as economic migrants rather than refugees, effectively banning them from applying for asylum within Macedonia. The move came after a similar decision by the Serbian government, and the immediate result was thousands of Afghans left stranded on the Greek side of the border with nowhere to go. This further congested the flow of refugees from other countries trying to cross from Greece. 

Frustration erupted in a full-scale riot in the Greek border town of Idomeni on Friday, when Macedonia temporarily closed the border to all. Crowds of hopeful passers ran to the border and proceeded to push down a razor-wire fence on the Macedonian side, resulting in the use of violence and tear gas by Macedonian authorities. The Greek minister for migration, Ioannis Mouzalas, stated that the estimated number of people trapped in Greece "will be between 50,000 and 70,000" before the end of this month.

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This Week in Restoring Family Links 2/1/2016 - 2/5/2016

This Week in Restoring Family Links 2/1/2016 - 2/5/2016

Supporting Syria: Yesterday, the Supporting Syria & the Region 2016 conference was held in London, co-hosted by the UK, Germany, Kuwait, Norway, and the United Nations. The conference brought together world leaders to address, coordinate, and raise significant funding to meet the immediate and long-term effects of the ongoing conflict. Building upon three previous such conferences in Kuwait, world leaders, as well as various NGO's came together to plan for and coordinate several relevant goals: raising funding, providing education access, create job opportunities, and apply international pressure to respect humanitarian law, among others. Donors pledged over USD $10 billion to the cause, with the largest pledges coming from the European Union, the United States, Japan, Germany, and others. 

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Uganda: Helping Families of the Missing to Find Renewed Purpose and Meaning

Mike Atube, a field officer with the Families of the Missing programme, leads a group session. CC BY-NC-ND / ICRC / Monica Mukerjee

Mike Atube, a field officer with the Families of the Missing programme, leads a group session. CC BY-NC-ND / ICRC / Monica Mukerjee

Between 1986 and 2006, some 75,000 people were abducted in northern Uganda.

The fate of several thousand remains unknown. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) estimates that as many as 10,000 may still be missing. Their families live in uncertainty, unable to truly mourn, hoping they may return.

An ICRC program has been helping these families cope with their pain and move forward. Monica Mukerjee, an ICRC Mental Health Delegate in Uganda, explains more about the program.

How have people in these communities been psychologically and psychosocially affected by the disappearance of their loved ones?

Although their relatives disappeared years or decades ago, the pain is still very much present for some families. They feel their lives are "on hold." They cannot make important life decisions. They may be unable to work. They feel paralyzed.

Emotionally, families talk about having cwer cwiny, an Acholi (tribe in Northern Uganda) idiom describing how their heart bleeds out of sadness for their missing loved one. Some have par, a sickness of thoughts, from constantly thinking of the relative who disappeared. Others have unexplained physical pains and sleeping problems, linked to psychological distress. They may even feel haunted by spirits of their missing loved ones — as without a body, they are unable to properly perform funeral rites that would give peace to the departed soul of their relative.

To cope with such problems, some adopt habits or fall into states of mind that can have negative effects on their health and social life, such as alcoholism, reclusiveness, bitterness and irritability.

These consequences are often worsened by other difficulties. Elderly parents with missing children suffer enormous financial hardships because they have no one to care for them when they are too old to work. Disputes in families over land appear when the owner disappears. Families may even face stigmatization because the community suspects them of having been close to, or associated with armed groups.

All of these issues aggravate the pain families of the missing feel.

How does the ICRC provide emotional support?

The ICRC program in Northern Uganda is one of the first to provide psychosocial support to families with missing relatives in Africa. We use a similar framework globally called "accompaniment" to provide support to families of the missing, which aims to support these families by "walking alongside them" to help shoulder their pain and struggles.

Through this approach, we identify, train and coach local community members to be "accompaniers" who facilitate support groups with families of the missing. In these groups, members open up and discuss the challenges that stem from their relative's disappearance.

Accompaniers also visit families at their homes to give individual support as needed and help with practical issues by connecting participants to additional help and services, such as health centers, local organizations or community elders.

A group session of families of missing persons, led by an ICRC "accompanier". CC BY-NC-ND / ICRC / Monica Mukerjee

A group session of families of missing persons, led by an ICRC "accompanier". CC BY-NC-ND / ICRC / Monica Mukerjee

How has the ICRC been able to adapt its approach to the cultural context?

In Northern Uganda, we select and train accompaniers who are from the same communities as the families of the missing. Our accompaniers are well-versed in Acholi culture and conduct their sessions entirely in Luo, the language spoken in Northern Uganda.

They create a space where members come together and support one another, which may include sharing Acholi rituals and practices.

For instance, many families struggle with how they can preserve the memory of their loved ones in their daily lives. In some groups, members have begun to use a mwoc of their loved ones. Mwoc are proverbs specific to each person that are repeated in happy and difficult times, and help families remember their relatives while giving them strength to deal with their everyday challenges.

How important is it to integrate psychosocial support with other elements of the response?

It is vital. Psychosocial support becomes powerful when it is anchored to ways of addressing practical issues.

In addition to giving emotional support, accompaniers actively help families resolve practical concerns they may have neglected due to their situations of stress, such as legal disputes or untreated medical issues.

What is the most important way in which people can help families of the missing to move forward with their lives?

Giving families a space to share feelings without judgment is an important starting point. It enables families to connect with others again, and through those relationships, they find renewed purpose and meaning in their lives.

For more stories from the International Committee of the Red Cross, please visit

This Week in Restoring Family Links News 11/15/2014-11/21/2014


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.

Universal Children’s Day: This week marked the 25th anniversary of the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, an important treaty providing protection for children around the globe. Over the past decade and a half, much has been done to better children’s lives from reducing child labor to protecting from abuse and assault to improving access to healthcare. The Convention also establishes family as a critical aspect for ensuring a child’s well-being, including the right to family connection and unity, in which the American Red Cross and Global Red Cross Movement play a pivotal role.

The Restoring Family Links program at the American Red Cross remains dedicated to reconnecting families separated by conflict, disaster, migration and other humanitarian emergencies. Over the years, this service has helped thousands of children reconnect with their loved ones, ensuring their access to the protections they need, often at times of increased vulnerability. There may be no better example of this than the Red Cross’ work along the US-Mexico border during the unaccompanied child crisis this summer.

The difficult journey many children undertook this summer, leaving their homes in Central America to reach the safety and hope of the United States, often left them without any way to communicate with their loved ones, both back home and in the US. After experiencing violence and vulnerability both in their home nations and along the journey, this lack of communication added to their trauma. Working in cooperation with partners, the Red Cross was able to provide safe and well phone calls for children detained in Nogales, AZ as they waited to be processed by the US government for release to sponsors or family.

Similar work is done year-round by the Global Red Cross Movement to help children reconnect and reunite with their families. From Syria, to the South Sudan and Uganda, children can rest assured that the Red Cross is there and able to help them. This is but one piece of the puzzle to creating a more resilient generation of youth to lead the world in the future. But hopefully, by reconnecting and reuniting families, children will find themselves in more secure, peaceful settings in which they can receive all the other aspects necessary for childhood development.

For more information on the Convention of the Rights of the Child, Universal Children’s Day, and the work of other humanitarian organizations to provide assistance and protection for children, check out these other stories we shared this week. The ICRC shared a photo essay of their work with children over the past 150 years. UNICEF released a progress report on their work to reduce infant mortality rates. And several humanitarian organizations joined together for a Google Hangout to discuss their work helping children in conflict zones become children of peace

This Week in Restoring Family Links News 11/1/2014-11/7/2014

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.

Unaccompanied Child Migrants: This week, a number of significant news stories came out of New York concerning the work of organizations and child advocates to help unaccompanied child migrants navigate the US migration system and adjust to their new lives. Many religious organizations across the US have opened their arms to these children, providing services that include reuniting them with family, providing legal services, and ensuring they have access to education. Legal assistance is extremely important as there are several [extremely complicated] options through which unaccompanied children can gain legal status in the US. Even with the help of pro bono attorneys, the case isn’t guaranteed to be approved; without this assistance, that chance is reduced dramatically.

In other news, a former child migrant shares his story of fleeing violence in Honduras seven years ago. He is now a citizen of the US and wants to share his story with the US public to help them understand both the hardships faced by youth in Honduras and the gratitude he feels for the help he received. While all children are vulnerable to violence and exploitation while migrating to the US as well as once they arrive, a new report by the Center for American Progress highlights the experiences of LGBT migrant youth and how the US can improve its immigration systems to better account for their protection needs. And on the topic of how the US government can continue to address the situation, Presidents from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras will all be visiting the US next week to discuss ongoing strategies for how to address the root causes of child migration.

Distribution of relief to internally displaced families, Al Dura, Baghdad, Iraq, October 2014

Distribution of relief to internally displaced families, Al Dura, Baghdad, Iraq, October 2014

International Committee of the Red Cross: Daily the ICRC engages in work around the globe to protect civilians from the ravages of war and preserve human dignity. Their work to help refugees fleeing violence in South Sudan and Central African Republic continues to provide a lifeline for many. The ICRC is also deeply engaged in protecting internally displaced persons. In 2014, eighty-eight percent of ICRC food aid went to displaced persons. They also play a critical role in reuniting families separated by violence. This work continues across the globe from Ukraine to Iraq to Nigeria.

South Sudan: Pressure continues to be applied to the armed conflict parties in South Sudan to lay down their arms and work to establish peace. In the capital city, Juba, civilians took to the streets to protest under the theme “Violence Never Gains.” The protest not only pressured the combatants to cease fighting, but also called on the mediating agency, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, to resume negotiations immediately. Internationally, many organizations have signed a petition for states bordering South Sudan and the United Nations to issue an arms embargo to limit the means for continuing violence within the state. While not mentioning an embargo, the United Nations Security Council strongly condemned the violence.

The ongoing conflict continues to affect food security in the region. The food situation in tandem with the violence continues to force many to flee to surrounding nations, especially Ethiopia and Uganda. In Ethiopia, the ICRC and the Ethiopian Red Cross continue to deliver aid in refugee camps and work to ensure the protection of these refugees. Uganda’s refugee system is different in that refugees are not placed in camps, but rather settlements where refugees are encouraged to grow their own food and work to support themselves with some assistance from aid agencies.