Pakistan: helping families connect with loved ones in Guantanamo

29-12-2009 Feature

An ICRC-facilitated video-telephone call (VTC) programme launched in October 2009 is connecting relatives of detainees in Guantanamo with their loved ones. The Parachas are one of three Pakistani families benefiting from the programme, which is an extension of the VTC initiative that began at the Bagram facility in Afghanistan in April 2008.


Farhat Paracha, the wife of Guantanamo detainee Saifullah Paracha, talks to reporters after speaking with her husband by VTC. 
    " We were so happy to see each other again " , says Farhat Paracha, 56, the wife of Saifullah Paracha, a Pakistani detained at Guantanamo Bay for the last five years, after interacting with her husband by video telephone. 

" Saifullah wanted to know everything about me, our children and relatives, " says Farhat, her eyes gleaming. " I told him as much as I could in one hour. Saifullah is missing his country and the outside world. The VTC reconnects him.”

" I came to know about Saifullah’s detention when, a few months after his capture, I received a call from an ICRC delegate informing me that my husband was alive and that he was in the custody of US forces at Bagram pr ison, " Farhat said. " The ICRC has kept me and my children in contact with my husband for six years, first in Bagram, and then at Guantanamo. The ICRC delegates who visit my home regularly to deliver and collect letters from and for Saifullah are a part of our family now. "  

After talking to their father, Muneeza Paracha, 27, and Mustafa Paracha, 20, were beaming. Mustafa said, " I hadn't seen my father since I was 14. I saw him for the first time in six years through VTC. While it cannot bridge the unbridgeable distance of thousands of miles between my father and our family, the video calls make the separation more bearable. "

Since April 2008, Guantanamo and Bagram detainees have been able to speak to their families by telephone several times a year under a programme facilitated by the ICRC. Since January 2009, the ICRC has organized 55 telephone calls for 23 families, including 18 Pakistani families, and their detained relatives in Bagram. It also arranged 18 calls for 14 families and their detained relatives in Guantanamo.

In agreement with American authorities, the ICRC has been visiting the people held at Guantanamo since January 2002. It offers these and other detainees all over the world the opportunity to correspond with their families through Red Cross messages.