Story by Nikki Nichols, National Headquarters, Operations Associate
“Can you write down the name of the person you’re looking for?”
He wrote down one name. And another. And another.
He didn’t stop until he’d written down five names of family members he had been separated from due to war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. As I watched him write, I was struck by the gravity of the situation. I couldn’t imagine the abrupt impact of war, having to suddenly run for my life, and not knowing the whereabouts of my family.
Fortunately the Red Cross can help in such occasions; the Restoring Family Links (RFL) program reunites loved ones separated by conflict, disaster, migration and other humanitarian emergencies. While working in Business Operations at American Red Cross National Headquarters, I became interested in learning more about this program first-hand. I wondered, how does RFL function? What is the context in which it works? With what kind of organizations does it partner?
To seek answers, in July 2014, I spent a week in Tucson, Arizona with Elissa Maish of the American Red Cross Southern Arizona Chapter. Three refugees, including the aforementioned gentleman, welcomed us into their homes so we could open new search cases, or retrieve Red Cross Messages to send to family members abroad. In these interactions, I observed how RFL caseworkers must be patient, cognizant of the clients’ emotional wellbeing and ability to discuss trying details of their past, and able to work in non-traditional meeting areas with distractions.
Another setting in which the Restoring Family Links program reunites families is the Sonora Desert. The American Red Cross has partnered with the humanitarian organization No More Deaths to provide phone calls home for migrants at their desert aid camp, a safe place for migrants to get first aid, take a shower, and have a meal. There are signs around the camp advertising the phone calls, which take place privately in an old trailer. No More Deaths volunteers assist with keeping call logs so the Red Cross can better understand the demographics of its clients.
The Mexican Red Cross also helps migrants, but in a different capacity. In our meeting with Lupita González of the Nogales, Mexico chapter, Elissa and I learned that as Mexico’s ambulatory and healthcare services provider, the Mexican Red Cross is the first organization that undocumented migrants brought from the United States to Mexico are exposed to. The Mexican Red Cross cares for migrants’ health pro bono, checking blood pressure and glucose levels, giving first aid, and treating dehydration.
The Mexican Red Cross’ Migrant Humanitarian Assistance Program also utilizes mobile clinics, which are supported by the International Committee of the Red Cross. Each clinic has a recovery area, doctor’s office, and areas for rest and recuperation. The mobile clinics are strategically placed in areas along the migration route so migrants can receive medical treatment.
Though the Mexican Red Cross’ role as a national society differs from that of the American Red Cross, they both work under the same seven fundamental principles of humanity, impartiality, neutrality, independence, voluntary service, unity, and universality. With this in mind, I returned to Washington, DC, understanding how the Red Cross transcends borders and languages to help people in need.
Each year the American Red Cross helps reconnect over 5000 families. To learn more about the program and how the Red Cross can help you reconnect with a loved one, please visit our website at www.redcross.org/reconnectingfamilies.