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Iraq: A two-minute sign of life

01-05-2003 News Release 03/46

"We are alive, my son! Don't worry, thanks be to God, we are all fine, Alhamdullilah!" Amina, a 73-year-old Iraqi woman dressed in an elegant chador and with a delicate tattoo on her forehead, ended her call on an ICRC mobile satellite telephone, deeply moved.

" Oh, thank you for allowing me to contact my dear relative. This call was worth the long wait in the heat. It feels so good to tell the people we love that we are safe! "

Like Amina, several hundred residents of Basra queue outside a joint ICRC/Iraqi Red Crescent Society office every day in the hope of talking to their loved ones abroad. The ICRC gives them the opportunity to use one of seven satellite phones installed in a booth on the roof of the building. The administrative procedures mean that people have to wait to place a call, but they also ensure that everyone gets the chance. The most popular destinations for the more than 600 callers per day are Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, the United States, Jordan, England, Denmark and Australia. Users have exactly two minutes to tell their family abroad that they are alive - two minutes that for many callers are worth more than all the riches in the world!

With the help of 37 Iraqi Red Crescent volunteers, the office in Basra also collects around 150 Red Cross messages every day sent by local Iraqis to relatives throughout the world. The messages are forwarded to National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, which then deliver them to their final destinations. In addition, the ICRC has already distributed more than 1,000 messages written by Iraqi prisoners of war held by Coalition forces to their families in Basra and elsewhere. These examples illustrate yet again the importance of being able to restore contact with one's family, which for many victims of war is just as great as that of being supplied with food or medicine.

In 2002, together with National Red Cros s and Red Crescent Societies, the ICRC collected and distributed 978,724 Red Cross messages all over the world, thereby helping family members separated by conflicts and disturbances to restore and maintain contact with one another.

 Further information: Tamara Al-Rifai, ICRC Geneva, tel. ++4179 244 6414  

 Florian Westphal, ICRC Geneva, tel. ++4179 217 32 26  

 Nada Doumani, ICRC Baghdad, tel. ++873 761 845 610