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Afghanistan: waiting for a hi-tech glimpse of their loved ones

13-01-2008 Feature

Until now, inmates of the detention facility at Bagram have communicated with their families using traditional Red Cross Message forms. In mid-January the ICRC, with the US military, introduced a video-conference system that allows relatives to see and hear their loved ones. Focus on three families eager to try it out.

 The three people featured here were interviewed in the offices of the ICRC in Kabul, on 13 January – the day before the scheme began.  

 
Nurhayat Mohd Baz 
   
© ICRC / Robert Keusen / AF-E-01226    
 
ICRC delegation, Kabul, January 2008: anxious anticipation marks the faces of Nurhayat and his family, prior to the video call.

   
     

Nurhayat (31) is from Ruidat district, Nangahar province, and has come here to talk to his cousin, who is being held in Bagram. With him are his cousin’s two sons and brother-in-law.

They left Nangahar for Kabul yesterday at around 3 p.m., arriving at 10 p.m. They say the journey was very cold, but well worth it.

It has been eight months since Nurhayat’s cousin was arrested, and it was through an RCM (Red Cross message) delivered by the ICRC that they found out he was in Bagram. It was a relief to know that he was alive. Until the RCM arrived they were unaware that the ICRC provided such a service. “During the Jihad against the Russians I had seen the ICRC transport wounded people, but that was all. Now I know you do so much more!” says Nurhayat.

He and his family replied to the first RCM and waited for the second one. Everybody was overjoyed when it arrived, mentioning the video link programme. They had never dreamed of such an opportunity. All they had been expecting was another message, and now they were actually going to talk to their relative and see him!

Nurhayat is so much looking forward to seeing his cousin at 9 a.m. tomorrow. He has messages from the detainee’s wife and mother.

“The ICRC is doing a great job,” he enthuses. “Before this, we didn’t know where he was. We all miss him. Can you imagine not seeing a member of your family for so long?”

 

Sultan Mohammed 
   
© ICRC / Mohd Maqsudi / AF-E-01227    
 
ICRC delegation, Kabul, January 2008: an ICRC staff member with Sultan, who has not seen his brother for four years.

   
     

Sultan is 34 years old, and he and his family of 15 come from Khost province. Since his brother’s arrest, they have all been living together.

It has been four years since they last saw Sultan’s brother or heard his voice. Until now, they could only communicate via RCMs exchanged through the ICRC. Sultan had heard of the ICRC when he was a student in Kabul many years ago, but had no idea they could help put family members back in touch. His family found out about the service 10 months ago, when the first RCM arrived from his brother in Bagram. They were all delighted to hear that his brother was still alive.

The last RCM invited them to actually see and talk to his brother via video link. They could hardly believe it. The whole family is thrilled, and everyone wanted to come, but that was not possible. Sultan travelled alone, but other family members may possibly arrive today. He arrived in Kabul last night at 11 p.m., having left Khost at 8 a.m. There was a lot of snow on the way, making the trip long, cold and tiring. “But that doesn’t matter. The joy of talking to my brother makes it all worthwhile.”

“I’m so looking forward to seeing him. I’ve got lots of messages from our mother. She wanted to come too, but she’s too ill to make such a long, hard journey " . As he started to imagine tomorrow's big moment, scheduled for 9.50 a.m., a huge smile lit up his face.

 

Faizula 
   
© ICRC / G.L. Piccolo    
 
ICRC delegation Kabul, January 2008: Faizula was overjoyed to get a Red Cross Message. But the video conference promises to be even better.    
     

Faizula is 43 years old and comes from a village called Tarahul, on the outskirts of Kabul. His cousin is being held in Bagram and Faizula is here with Rafiulla, his cousin’s 19-year-old son.

The detainee’s family have not seen him for four years. For the past three , they have been communicating with him via RCMs. The exchange of messages started with their detained relative writing an RCM and sending it to them via the ICRC. When he was taken to Bagram, people in their village had told them that the ICRC could help them find him again. That first RCM was an immense source of joy to the whole family.

“We’re so happy every time we get an RCM, because it proves he’s still alive,” explains Faizula.

The last RCM explained the programme and invited them to participate. The family could hardly believe it, and had to read it several times to be sure they had understood it correctly. “We were ecstatic!” says Faizula.

The phone call will take place tomorrow at 10 a.m., when they will be joined by two more of the detainee’s sons and one daughter. “We live not so far from here, so travel isn’t a problem. It’s very cold for travelling, but we’d do anything for a chance like this. Thank you to the ICRC for making it possible!”