Sri Lanka: Working together to reconnect families

Nesan’s wife shares a family photo with Ravi Kumar at their home in Mannar. Photo Credit: Pascal Jequier/ICRC. 

Nesan’s wife shares a family photo with Ravi Kumar at their home in Mannar. Photo Credit: Pascal Jequier/ICRC. 

Tracing missing people is no easy task. But Ravi Kumar, a Volunteer Tracing Coordinator (VTC) in the Mannar branch of the Sri Lanka Red Cross Society (SLRCS), understands the challenges well.

During the uprising of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna in 1983, Ravi Kumar, his mother and two older sisters were separated from his father, and younger and older brothers for six months. They found each other through an announcement on the Tracing Service of what was then the Radio Ceylon. After the family was reunited, they relocated to Mannar. Ravi Kumar was 13 years old at the time.

Ravi Kumar’s desire to work as a volunteer and his personal experience led him to join the SLRCS in Mannar as a VTC. As a teenager, he had been a volunteer in the SLRCS Mannar Youth Club. Since he joined the branch in December 2015, he has successfully resolved four of the ten cases that were brought to him.

The ICRC explains its RFL activities to SLRCS volunteers at the Nuwara Eliya branch. Photo Credit: Sachini Akuretiya/ICRC. 

The ICRC explains its RFL activities to SLRCS volunteers at the Nuwara Eliya branch. Photo Credit: Sachini Akuretiya/ICRC. 

Recently, Ravi Kumar successfully reunited Mariadaas Baskaran and Nesan, two brothers, who had been separated for 24 years. Together with their families, they had fled the conflict to India in 1990. In 1992, Nesan and his wife returned to Sri Lanka. Before long, the brothers had lost contact with each other.

Ravi Kumar received a tracing request from the Indian Red Cross on behalf of Mariadaas. He visited the address on the request form, only to discover that Nesan and his wife no longer lived there. However, after speaking to the community’s parish priest and a resident in the area who remembered Nesan, Ravi Kumar was able to trace him and restore contact between the brothers. 

Photo Credit: Sachini Akuretiya/ICRC.

Photo Credit: Sachini Akuretiya/ICRC.

“Our families now speak at least once a week on the phone,” says Nesan’s wife, happy that their children can get to know their cousins. 

“It’s not always easy,” says Ravi Kumar as he goes on to explain the challenges. “Often the home address on the tracing request is incorrect or the family has resettled. Sometimes the information provided is insufficient, and I’m not sure how to proceed.” 

Despite it all, he is determined to continue his work.

In Sri Lanka, the ICRC and the SLRCS work together to restore and maintain contact between family members separated as a result of migration, detention, or natural disaster, through our Restoring Family Links (RFL) programme. 

The SLRCS receives more than one hundred migration-related tracing requests, every year. These cases include restoring contact between Sri Lankan nationals detained abroad and their family members in Sri Lanka, and between foreign nationals detained in Sri Lanka and their family members in their home countries.