This Week in Restoring Family Links News 03/07/2015 - 03/13/2015

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.

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Syria: This week we highlighted some of the ongoing problems facing Syrian refugees. With the war in Syria entering its fifth year, millions of displaced people continue to suffer from a lack of humanitarian aid. International President of Médecins Sans Frontières, Joanne Liu, describes how her organization faces a series of political and social obstacles in providing medical services to the region. In addition to facing physical threats, Syrians are also in danger of losing part of their cultural heritage. With ISIS and other military forces continuing to operate in Syria, fighting has led to a transnational effort to protect cultural and historical artifacts that lie within the combat zone. 

Outside of Syria, the country’s neighbors also face numerous obstacles due to the massive influx of refugees requiring assistance within their borders.  As the war drags on, deeper issues outside of meeting basic living standards have arisen. With much of the adult Syrian men back at home, a large proportion of refugees are women and children. As a vulnerable population group, they have been subject to numerous challenges including forced prostitution, child labor, and religious persecution. In Turkey, for example, only 1/3 of Syrian youth are receiving a formal education – raising fears of a poorly educated generation entering the labor market.  Unless there are some radical new developments the situation will only get worse since the total number of Syrians forced out of their country could exceed 5 million by the end of the year (from roughly 4 million now).

Unaccompanied Children - Pressing obstacles and issues still exist for minors around the globe – specifically youth who have been separated from their families. In the US, research has indicated that some states are far more likely to deport unaccompanied minor migrants who have entered the country than others (i.e. 30% in Georgia vs. 9% in Florida). These differences in court processing present an interesting situation regarding federal oversight of state policies. In cases where migrant youth have obtained legal status there have already been successful stories of their acclimation into American society.

Globally, hundreds of fleeing minors have perished during treks across the Mediterranean, facing deceitful traffickers, extortionists, and the ferocity of the high seas. This week, the UN announced proposals for actions European nations should take to address their migration crises, including meeting the needs of unaccompanied children. Organizations such as Save the Children have already been mandated by respective governments to provide services to youth that land on European shores.  

International Women's Day-  This past week celebrated International Women’s Day, with Restoring Family Links giving a special shout out to current and former female activists.  This week, a group of women announced plans to walk across the demilitarization zone between the Koreas in a call for peace and “to help unite Korean families tragically separated by an artificial man-made division.” In addition, we highlighted the ongoing sociopolitical struggle in much of South East Asia – Burma in particular – where Zin Mar Aung, a female rights activist who has spent 11 years in prison for protesting government policies, continues to promote democracy and increased female agency within the region. We also honored Clara Barton, a powerful social agent and founder of the American Red Cross in her quest to alleviate human suffering and promote principles that affirm the intrinsic value of every person within society.

This Week in Restoring Family Links News 10/4/2014-10/10/2014

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.

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Unaccompanied Children: This week, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson spoke about border security and the unaccompanied child migrant crisis at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He discussed improvements made to security along the southern border as well as the decline of children traveling unaccompanied across the border. The Secretary said, however, that this should not be a reason to claim “victory” as the lower numbers reflect general migration patterns in the region caused in part by weather conditions. In discussing issues of border security and child migrants, the Secretary cautioned everyone to engage in “informed, careful, and responsible dialogue, not overheated rhetoric that is certain to feed flames of fear, anxiety and suspicion.” This is especially pertinent advice given the number of reports arising about supposed diseases carried into the US by migrants.

As media coverage concerning unaccompanied child migrants moves from the US-Mexico border to the states and cities hosting the minors, many stories have focused on the work of schools and communities to provide assistance. This ranges from English as a Second Language training to game-based learning educating about the US immigration system. A lack of legal representation for these children when going before immigration courts has also been a focus. Many pro bono legal services have been made available, but the immense needs have left gaps in representation for some children. Studies have found that child migrants without a lawyer are far less likely to be granted asylum.

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Migration and Europe: In today’s globalized world, migration in all its forms is a topic that touches every nation. While the US continues to grapple with migration issues ranging from unaccompanied children to migrant families, Europe is facing its own crisis. One year after the Lampedusa shipwreck tragedy in which over 360 migrants died, a report was released naming Europe as the deadliest border in the world. Organizations such as the UN Refugee Agency have asked European nations to overhaul refugee policies and take in more refugees from Syria to help ease the crisis. While many reports focus on the work of organizations to provide humanitarian assistance to these migrants and advocate on their behalf, little attention is paid to life on the other side of the “border.” Those living along the Libyan coast have found their towns turned to graveyards as the dead from shipwrecks wash ashore. A lack of security in the nation also leaves them vulnerable to smugglers, who many call “vampires.” As with any migration crisis, finding a solution will require addressing issues on both sides of the border.

Red Cross and Reconnecting Families: This week, we were able to share a number of successful family reconnection stories from around the globe. From South Sudan where the ICRC and South Sudanese Red Cross were able to reunite Grace with her mother to the UK where British Red Cross workers were able to reconnect a family separated by conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Red Cross remains dedicated to restoring communication between loved ones separated by conflict, disaster, migration, and other humanitarian emergencies. Other stories came from Australia and Cambodia/Vietnam where acute vulnerabilities made the family reconnection all the more urgent. Also, at the American Red Cross, a volunteer with national headquarters shares her experience conducting tracing work for the Restoring Family Links program for over twenty years.

Long Beach Cambodian Community Learns about Family Tracing

Story by Wendy Witherspoon, Los Angeles Region, Communications Volunteer

When Charles Song was 12-years old, he was wounded during a bomb attack in his native Cambodia. Song’s family had no money to pay for medical care at the local hospital, and Song could have bled to death. However, Song’s family finally found a way to transport him to another facility where a Red Cross doctor immediately performed a surgery that saved his life.

After that bomb attack, Song’s brother, Heng Lucky Song, escaped from Cambodia and immigrated to the United States. Several years later, with the assistance of the International Red Cross Restoring Family Links program, Heng Lucky located Charles and his family and – with the aid of a local church – Heng Lucky was able to act as a sponsor and ultimately to bring Charles and his family to the United States.

Recently, at a Restoring Family Links information day held at the Red Cross Greater Long Beach Chapter office, Charles Song stood before about 20 members of the Long Beach Cambodian community to tell them how the Restoring Family Links program had helped reunite his family. Song, who survived a childhood of war, hunger, and deprivation in Cambodia before escaping to the United States, is currently a member of the Board of Directors of the Red Cross Greater Long Beach/Rio Hondo Chapter.

 Mr. Charles Song promotes Restoring Family Links services to local Cambodian community.

Mr. Charles Song promotes Restoring Family Links services to local Cambodian community.

“Some have probably gone through life cheating death once or twice. I have a lifetime of that,” Song told the crowd.

The Restoring Family Links program, which is free of charge, helps families reconnect with relatives who have been separated internationally as a result of war, disaster, migration or other humanitarian emergency. In the past year, the program has helped thousands of families, renewing vital connections between new communities in the U.S. and their families around the world.

Svetlana Fusekova, L.A. Region International Services and Service to the Armed Forces manager, explained that the event was held for the Long Beach Cambodian community because many of its members were affected by the Cambodian Genocide of the 1970s and by the subsequent Cambodian-Vietnamese War.

“All of you here are our important messengers because we are trying to make sure that as many people as possible know about this service,” Fusekova said. “We are ready to assist people if they would like to reopen a chapter of their life that might not be easy to open.”

Event attendee Sara Pol-Lim, executive director, United Cambodian Community of Long Beach (a social services agency), said she expects the community will benefit a great deal from the program when they understand it.

“If you didn’t come out [of Cambodia] with your family, the presumption is that they are lost, and that’s not always true,” Pol-Lim said.

Fusekova noted the importance of reconnecting families in the wake of war, disaster, and other humanitarian emergencies.

“Family is the most important thing,” Fusekova said. “This program is so valuable because we are able to give people hope and sometimes vital information about missing family members.”

For more stories from the Los Angeles Region of the American Red Cross, please click here. To learn more about the American Red Cross Restoring Family Links program, please visit redcross.org/familylinks. If you are in the Los Angeles area and want to open a tracing case, please contact IntlTracing.LosAngeles.CA@redcross.org or call (626) 407-4536. For outside the LA Region, please contact Intl.ReconnectingFamilies@redcross.org