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Elation and relief as Afghan family is reunited

11-04-2014 Feature

ICRC staff in Pakistan recently worked with the British Red Cross to reunite an Afghan man living in Pakistan with his family in the United Kingdom after they had been out of touch for eight years.

PRCS tracing officer Talha Sadiq talks to the man from Afghanistan. 

Islamabad, Pakistan.
PRCS tracing officer Talha Sadiq talks to the man from Afghanistan.
© ICRC

It was a cold, grey December afternoon at the protection department of the ICRC Islamabad delegation. I was sitting at my office window, cradling a hot cup of tea, when an email popped up on my computer screen. Little did I realize at the time that this electronic correspondence would be the start of what has been the most cherished experience of my career.

It was the British Red Cross (BRC) seeking our assistance to locate a 65-year-old Afghan national of whom his family had had no news since 2005. His wife, elderly and ill and currently living in the United Kingdom with her five children, had contacted the BRC; but the only useful information that she had was that her husband had allegedly been spotted near the Shifa Hospital in Islamabad, Pakistan.

The ICRC shared the case with the Pakistan Red Crescent Society (PRCS) tracing department in Islamabad. The department located a recent record of an Afghan national in Islamabad who had been searching for his family, which he believed to be in Pakistan. Could there be a connection between the BRC search and this man’s search?

It would be worth a try. Within a few days, a small joint team of ICRC and PRCS staff stood knocking at the door of a one-room apartment near Shifa Hospital. The door opened and soon an elderly Afghan man was relating his emotional story.

It was the British Red Cross (BRC) seeking our assistance to locate a 65-year-old Afghan national of whom his family had had no news since 2005.

In early 2005, he and his family had headed overland for Europe, hoping for a better life there. But with incomplete documentation and meager resources, the family saw their hopes dashed in Iran, where the breadwinner was imprisoned for three years. Upon his release, the husband and father found himself alone; it would take him two more years to be able to enter Pakistan, where he understood his family had gone.

But his efforts to find his loved ones, at first in Peshawar and most recently in Islamabad, were all in vain.

The tracing team sensed a breakthrough. Indeed, research showed us that the various pieces of information matched up and the facts fell in place: this person was indeed the long-lost husband and father sought by the BRC!

Returning to the tiny apartment, the tracing team shared the news that the man’s family was living in the UK and that they were desperately seeking him. He was overcome: tears streamed from his eyes as he embraced each of us – before falling to his knees to pray.

The team, also affected by the joy, suggested that the man write a Red Cross message to his family. He gladly accepted. The BRC relayed the communication, and the happy outcome was family contact following eight years of agonizing separation.

The man’s daughter responded to the actual family reunion in this way: “I want to thank you very much for finding my dad after all these years. It’s so much appreciated, and I can’t say how happy you have made my life. What we will never forget is his face that day: the joy, the disbelief, the anxiety – all together, all at once – as the family contact was restored.”