On Saturday, June 18, 2016, the American Red Cross of Central Oklahoma participated in World Refugee Day at Memorial Park in Oklahoma City. World Refugee Day acknowledges the resilience and courage of refugees throughout the world. This year’s event was titled “Many Cultures, One Community.” The American Red Cross Regional International Service Program Coordinator, Bart Frank, described the event as “a true collaboration of non-profit organizations in our community that come together each year to plan and celebrate the lives of refugees in our area.” “The Red Cross and The Spero Project assist Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City in picking the site, organizing entertainment, and providing supplies and volunteer support. Ten fantastic Red Cross volunteers assisted at the event today, passing out water, discussing disaster situations, and running our famous spinning wheel with prizes for young children who answered questions on disaster-related topics,” said Frank.Read More
This year we welcomed returning artist Abraham Mellish, and new artists Azieb Abraha and Lester Rey to the stage. Each brought a really different sound to the event, sharing music with influences from the Caribbean, Ethiopia, and Liberia, blended together with sounds from the Chicago Latin and hip-hop scene. We also had three new art exhibits this year that were set up throughout Daley Plaza for public viewing. Volunteers answered questions and provided resources and information for anyone wanting to learn more about what we do. We also staged ‘WRD Ambassadors’ throughout the Plaza with Refugee Fact Sheets from the Illinois Bureau of Refugee and Immigrant Services, handing out almost all 400 of the copies. The Red Cross had an information tent and was staffed by RFL Intern Tessa Lavdiotis and RFL volunteers Susie Mazaheri and Jemina Shikany. Many people approached our tent with questions about donating blood, and while we directed them appropriately, it provided a great opportunity to educate the public about our Restoring Family Links program and our work around the world.Read More
Story by Connor Donaldson, Volunteer, Denver, CO
Each day, millions of people around the globe scrape out an existence as refugees, internally displaced persons, and asylum seekers. To help raise awareness during last month’s World Refugee Day celebrations, the Global Refugee Center in Greeley, Colorado hosted an open house centered on their “A Walk in their Shoes” simulation.
This simulation, based on United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) guidelines, attempts to give participants a glimpse of life as a refugee. Through a variety of scenarios, following the path from displacement to border crossings to life in refugee camps, the simulation uses sensory deprivation, assigned disabilities, and synthetic foreign languages to simulate the everyday hardships that refugees face. For many participants, this eye-opening experience is the first exposure to the daily plight of displaced persons and refugees. Many found it hard to handle and disturbing.
For the simulation, I was assigned the role of a five-year-old girl, initially separated from her family by a bombing and muted by a poison gas attack. As a student of international humanitarian law, it was really difficult to walk through this simulation, understanding that while we can walk away and return to our lives of comfort and ease, this is the reality of millions of people.
Each step in the process illustrated the abuses of humanitarian law, from the bombing of civilians by a government entity to the demanding of bribes by border security, violating international rights of migration. I watched as my “family” was separated, harassed, and I was eventually left behind, since my “father” had nothing to bribe the guards with to get me across the border. This is a constant reality for people living in fear, fleeing for their lives from natural disasters, sectarian and political violence, and religious persecution.
Through this simulation, I met a refugee from the Kayah State of Burma who fled political persecution with her family when she was 5 years old. She walked through the simulation with us, and afterword sat down with me to discuss the simulation and her experiences as a refugee. She mentioned that during the sensory-deprivation section of the course, with flashing lights and banging noises, gave her flashbacks to her father carrying her through the jungle, fleeing the policemen searching for her father.
That statement really affected me; a punch in the gut serving as a final reminder that this is reality for people around the globe, and that nothing we simulate can possibly reach the levels of sheer terror experienced by these people, but this simulation did have the power to give the briefest taste of such horrors.
For more information of the Global Refugee Center, visit http://www.grccolorado.org.
Read more about the rights of civilians and refugees by clicking here.
For more stories from the American Red Cross in Colorado, please visit their blog.
Story by Carmela Burke, Volunteer, Los Angeles, CA
In an emergency—natural or man-made—one agency alone cannot meet all the needs of individuals and families displaced by that crisis. Those forced to abandon their homes and communities search for safe haven which could be a temporary shelter, home of a family member or friend, or another country.
Separation from family members is inevitable during calamities, conflict and other emergency humanitarian situations. Several nonprofit and government agencies have longstanding practices of connecting family members of vulnerable people who include evacuees, migrants and refugees.
In the American Red Cross, founder Clara Barton helped soldiers in the Civil War send letters home to their families. She also collected lists of the missing and deceased to help inform families about their loved ones. This work continues today. The International Red Cross Red Crescent Movement has a role in providing protection and assistance to those in need regardless of their legal status.
Families displaced and separated by disasters, conflict, international migration and other circumstances receive assistance from the vast Red Cross network to locate and reestablish communication with loved ones. Efforts to facilitate communications and contact among family members are achieved through these Red Cross programs: Restoring Family Links (RFL) and Safe-and-Well.
Each year in June, the world observes Refugee Awareness Month to bring to the forefront situations and hardships faced by vulnerable populations. On June 25, 2015 the Los Angeles Refugee Forum hosted a citywide World Refugee Day. This year’s event recognized the ongoing refugee crisis in Syria and unaccompanied minors here in the US, the 100th Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, and commemorated the struggles and resiliency of refugees. The day was filled with entertainment, activities for children, sharing information and resources, as well as forging new partnerships.
The Los Angeles Refugee Forum is a collaborative group of at least 18 community organizations and government agencies that work together to address clients’ needs. Member agencies include American Red Cross, Catholic Charities, International Rescue Committee (IRC), Interfaith Refugee and Immigration Service (IRIS), Jewish Family Service, Legal Aid Foundation, Los Angeles County Department of Public Social Services, and PARS Equality Center. Agency goals range from providing social and legal services (PARS), tools and connections to help new arrivals gain self-sufficiency (IRIS), rebuilding lives (IRC) and alleviating the suffering of family members separated by armed conflict or disasters worldwide (Red Cross).
“Reconnecting families is important to communities because family can mean the difference between a person who is resilient and one who may struggle,” said Kerry Khan, World Refugee Day Planning Committee Member representing the American Red Cross Los Angeles Region. “Family is one of the biggest support systems there is and can help a person get back on their feet after a disaster or experiencing conflict. …This is why it is such an important program. When individuals in a community are resilient they help build a stronger community.”
More than 60% of Restoring Family Links cases start in other countries, and the American Red Cross initiates more than 2,000 cases to help reconnect family members with their loved ones. Yet tens of thousands of refugees arrive in the United States every year from countries affected by conflict, and they agonize about not knowing the fate of their loved ones.
From her experience in teaming up with the Los Angeles Refugee Forum, Khan sees the need to continue community outreach and keep reminding agencies about the Red Cross' free reconnecting families services. “It may take several times before an organization or someone at an organization, can quickly remember that this service exists and provide the information to a client in need of it. Secondly, it is vital for our local Red Cross to know about other services so that we can refer clients to our partners if we are not able to provide the needed service.”
For more information on the Red Cross Restoring Family Links Program, visit www.redcross.org/reconnectingfamilies and in Los Angeles, please call (626) 407-4536 or email IntlTracing.LosAngeles.CA@redcross.org.