Reconnection Amid Crisis and Conflict

Story by Krista Schilling, Regional International Services Program Manager, Seattle, WA

Since the collapse of the Barre regime in Somalia in 1991, conflict and famine have forced thousands of families from their homes. While some became internally displaced, others sought protection in refugee camps in Kenya and Ethiopia. The massive population movement and resulting resettlement of Somali refugees has caused many families to become separated and lose contact with one another.

The American Red Cross as a part of the Global Red Cross Movement has for years worked to reconnect Somali families through its Restoring Family Links program. This includes searching for lost relatives, but also helping to maintain communication between loved ones who may have difficulty reaching one another by phone, email, or letter.

Last year, the American Red Cross Serving the Northwest Region in Seattle, Washington successfully reconnected a family torn by crisis and conflict. The case involved a man hailing from Somalia, Anis*, who had lost contact with his extended family— mother, siblings and cousins—living in a refugee camp in Ethiopia. Though they hadn't seen each other in years, they had been in consistent communication by phone. Then suddenly, all contact was lost.

The American Red Cross was able to connect with the Ethiopian Red Cross Society and locate the camp where his family was thought to be. Oftentimes, volunteers will search refugee camps by foot or bicycle calling for the family members, saying that they have a message for them. Because the Red Cross is a trusted organization globally, known for its reconnecting families service, the volunteers were able to find the man's family.  

In less than a year, the Red Cross was able to locate Anis' mother and verify that she was safe. Pictures of the his family and letters from his mother were sent from Ethiopia, and the American Red Cross ensured that soon they were in Anis' hands along with the good news that his family was well.

“He was initially nervous to hear news about what had happened to his family,” said Restoring Family Links volunteer caseworker. “He lit up at seeing pictures of his family. It had been years since he had laid eyes on them.” The Red Cross volunteer watched the man smile as he took in the images of his cousins. With communication re-established, he could now rest well, knowing their well-being.

For more stories from the American Red Cross serving the Northwest Region, please click here.

For more information on the Restoring Family Links program and its work to reconnect families, please visit redcross.org/reconnectingfamilies.

*Pseudonym has been used to protect the client's identity.