This Week in Restoring Family Links News 11/09/15 - 11/13/15

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.

Turkish Red Crescent works with kids in Istanbul Community Center, providing them a safe space.

Red Cross Unity: This week we highlighted the Red Cross Fundamental Principle of Unity on the blog. The Principle ensures that each country will only have one Red Cross Red Crescent society, which will be responsible for providing humanitarian services throughout the country’s territory in accordance with the other seven Fundamental Principles. Around the globe, Red Cross Red Crescent Societies are working to alleviate human suffering within their own cultural, historical, and current contexts. Some of the work that was highlighted this week includes distributing relief items to refugees in Serbia, reconnecting separated families in the United States, and supporting refugee children in Turkey.

A man prays after arriving on the island of Kos, Greece. Credit: Daniel Etter for The New York Times

Refugees in Europe: This week, three themes dominated the news we shared regarding refugees and migrants in Europe and the EU’s response: winter preparations, the Valletta conference, and Turkey. As winter fast approaches, many are concerned with the additional humanitarian concerns brought on by colder weather and rougher seas. Previous years have seen a decline in migration during winter months due to these factors, yet the number of those seeking the safety of European shores continues to rise. Winter brings many challenges, but the United Nations has said progress for preparing for winter is on track. One story we shared includes three testimonials from humanitarians working with refugees and preparing for winter.

This week, European and African leaders met in Valletta, Malta to discuss issues of migration, primarily addressing the root causes of migration in African nations and discussing protocol around the return of migrants if they are not granted protection in the European Union. Agreements concerning both issues were reached with European and African leaders committing to address insecurity, poverty and climate change; issues that have fueled the recent exodus. Both sides also agreed “to give preference to voluntary return and reaffirm that all returns must be carried out in full respect of human rights and human dignity.”

In addition to working with African leaders, Europe has also been very focused on reaching a deal with Turkey to help stem the flow of migrants and refugees. In addition to funds to help support refugee camps, the EU has used Turkey’s membership in the European-bloc as a bargaining tool to secure the agreement. While Turkey’s cooperation will certainly aid in relieving some of the pressure currently faced by European nations in meeting the needs of the thousands of refugees within and at their borders, there is worry that closing off this route will just encourage migrants to find more dangerous pathways to Europe. As illustrated by one refugee who took the risk of swimming from Turkey to Greece, the resolve of individuals and families to reach a safe place where they can rebuild their lives is unstoppable.

Unity: Together for Humanity

Red Cross worker Nieves Alonso is helping migrants reconnect with families in the Restoring Family Links tent at an accommodation camp in Sentilj, Slovenia, close to the Austrian border. John Engedal Nissen, IFRC

Red Cross worker Nieves Alonso is helping migrants reconnect with families in the Restoring Family Links tent at an accommodation camp in Sentilj, Slovenia, close to the Austrian border. John Engedal Nissen, IFRC

The Red Cross Red Crescent Fundamental Principle of Unity can seem simple by name, but complex by definition. At first glance, one may think it urges for cooperation and collaboration between and across the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement. That bi/multi-lateral unity is actually enshrined in the Fundamental Principle of Universality. The Red Cross looks at Unity on an individual level - that there is no more than one society in any given country, that a national society is comprised of and serves everyone in that country regardless of race, gender, political opinion, etc., and that a national society's services are available throughout the territory of its country.

A great example of Unity is the work being done in Europe currently to address the refugee crisis by individual Red Cross societies. They work to meet the needs of those in transit throughout their nation, regardless of who they are. The following story highlights the reconnecting families work of the Red Cross in Slovenia for refugees.

By John Engedal Nissen, IFRC

Round, black glasses, a smile and a chunky brown beard. This is one of the faces that greet many people in a small green tent in an area where thousands of migrants wait to cross the Austrian border just 1km away. Every day, Dominik Raduha, 26, and other volunteers with the Slovenian Red Cross, help people reconnect with their families who they may have lost track with while moving through the Balkans.

“They feel hopeless when they come, so first of all we try to assure them that there is still hope and explain how we  can help them find their family again,” he says.

Wi-Fi and phone calls

The Red Cross team provides a Wi-Fi connection and has cell phones available to allow people to reconnect with their families.

“Many people become separated as they are brought here in different buses, so we are able to solve many of the situations within the camp. We help people to find their relatives, and when they are reunited, they often kiss and hug, because they thought they had lost each other for good,” Raduha says.

Red Cross volunteers also collect information from people to help reunite them with family members later. Recently the society’s tracing service, Restoring Family Links, reconnected a Syrian teenager and his family. While he was in Slovenia, the family continued their journey and reached Sweden. With the assistance of the Red Cross, the family will soon be reunited.

Reuniting a family with their infant

In another case an infant became separated from his family after being treated at the hospital in Serbia.

“For a few nights I had difficulties sleeping because of that, but we recently managed to bring the family together,” says Raduha. “So many of the volunteers had been involved in the case and  they came to witness the reunion.”

Before he started volunteering with Restoring Family Links, he was unsure whether he was cut out for a job working in times of crisis. He now volunteers almost every day, working up to 13 hours each day.

“The tracing service is my priority, but I help with what is needed, which might be taking people to the doctor, distributing food or clothing. I am very busy because there is always something to do. Even though my shift ends at 6pm, I often end up staying till 8 or 9pm,” he says. “It has truly been a positive experience. In a way it is very simple, because I just try to do my best to help.”

For more on the response of the Red Cross Red Crescent in Europe, please click here.