Russian Federation/Daghestan: the family visits programme through a mother's eyes

26-07-2012 Feature

When someone from the North Caucasus is detained in connection with conflict or violence, they may be held in a distant part of the Russian Federation, making it difficult and expensive for their families to visit them. So three times a year, the ICRC covers the cost of travel and accommodation, enabling families to make these all-important trips. In 2011, the organization helped 354 families from the North Caucasus visit their detained relatives. Olga Berezueva from the ICRC office in Daghestan describes how this project works.

Nurzhagan Magomedovna is one of the beneficiaries of the family visits programme in Daghestan, which started in 2007. The term “family visits programme” will mean nothing to most people, but for Nurzhagan Magomedovna it has become a bridge of hope, connecting her with her son.

When I phoned to arrange our meeting, I heard the friendly voice of someone who really wanted to meet me, and not just because we had helped her. My impression was confirmed when my gracious hostess met me in the doorway, and she turned out to be an interesting person to talk to.

Nurzhagan Magomedovna is a retired medical worker and lives in Makhachkala. She uses crutches because of a disability, but still led me nimbly into her living room. I noticed the ICRC “family visits” leaflet lying among the newspapers and other documents on her coffee table. Magomedovna explained: "This leaflet has always been with me, ever since I heard about the programme and began visiting my son." Her story starts with the moment trouble came to her home – her son landed up in pre-trial detention, far away from Daghestan. During one of her visits he told her: "Mum, there’s an organization working here in Daghestan. It's called the International Committee of the Red Cross, you should go to them. People say they can help." This was the first his mother had heard of the ICRC. First she went to see him alone, and then she began taking her granddaughter along. And since the girl was accompanying a disabled person, the ICRC paid for her transport and accommodation costs as well. Finally, the ICRC enabled his wife and five-year-old daughter to visit him.

Nurzhagan Magomedovna told me how important these visits were to her, how they helped her son, how she tried not to miss a single visit, and how the ICRC gives her the extra help that she needs during the journey on account of her disability.

She has a lot to tell me, and has clearly been waiting a long time to share her story with someone. She mentions with gratitude the ICRC staff in our Khasavyurt office who have helped her: Nika the protection field officer, Kharun the administrator, Visrail the security guard ... I try to explain that we are just doing our jobs … Magomedovna is an incredibly optimistic person who sees good everywhere, and this never-give-up attitude helps her overcome both physical pain and mental suffering as she waits for her son's return.

As I left, I realised that we had both needed this meeting. She needed it in order to voice her feelings, and I needed it in order to learn that you should never lose heart, that you should keep on fighting, that you should believe in a better future and that you should love.

I also learned that the ICRC family visits programme not only helps families keep in touch under difficult circumstances, but also gives them hope that they will eventually overcome these circumstances.


Makhachkala, Daghestan. Nurzhagan Magomedovna displays her copy of the ICRC “family visits” leaflet. 

Makhachkala, Daghestan. Nurzhagan Magomedovna displays her copy of the ICRC “family visits” leaflet.