Migrants arrive at the reception and information centers in Pacaraima, near the border, and have the opportunity to speak to their families over the phone. Many of them do not own a phone, and for those who do, the price of making phone calls is too high. The ICRC’s service is free. Photo: S.Lefcovich/ICRC
After a journey that can last several days, weeks or even months, hearing the voice of a loved one is a great encouragement, even if that voice is hundreds or thousands of miles away.
Tears, joy, nostalgia, hopes and dreams converge in conversations filled with emotion. There are also those phone calls that address more immediate concerns, such as lack of documentation.
Lorena H., 39, and her husband left their hometown eight months ago. They left their five children in the care of their grandmother. At the ICRC post in Pacaraima, on Brazil's border with Venezuela, she was able to talk to her 13-year-old son. Visibly moved, she told us that she missed her family very much because it was the first time she had been separated from her children. The boy was astounded to hear that his mother had made it so far, all the way to Brazil. "It was lovely to hear my son again because I had not spoken to him for months," she said.
Since the month of July, when the ICRC began offering Restoring Family Links (RFL) services in Pacaraima, more than 20,000 calls from migrants to their families were made possible. The average number of calls in October was 400 per day. In September, in addition to providing services in three different locations in Pacaraima, a post was set up in Boa Vista, capital of the state of Roraima, in northern Brazil.
Teresa R., 19 years old, is one of the 18 ICRC staff members involved in the RFL programme. "It's so nice to be able to help people in this way," says Teresa, who arrived to Roraima in April. "They are given the opportunity to communicate with their relatives, and for me that's the best thing in the world," she adds, with a smile of satisfaction.
"It's so nice to be able to help people in this way," says Teresa. She helps migrants at the Migrant Reception and Identification Centerin Boa Vista, where they can make use of RFL´s services.
Reception and Identification Centers provide a variety of services including: applications for aslyum, temporary residency, issuance of tax ID numbers, work permits and vaccinations. Photo: S.Lefcovich/ICRC
RFL services for migrants include free 3-minute phone calls, internet access for WhatsApp or Facebook calls and messages, and a power supply for charging mobile phones. "Many migrants arrive in Brazil without mobile devices, phone lines or data packages that could allow them to communicate internationally," explains Fernando Fornaris, head of the ICRC office in Boa Vista. The ICRC also raises awareness to prevent families from being separating, aiming to inform migrants about how to keep in touch with their families from Brazil.
It is not always easy to make contact. Luis Félix M., who alongside two colleagues provides RFL services to migrants, says that 82 of the 102 calls made during his shift - from 9AM to 12.45PM - were successful. Omar A., 18 years old, was able to talk to his sister. He wanted to speak to his mother, but it was not possible.
In Pacaraima, RFL services are offered at the two Migrant Reception and Identification Centers. Once a week, a mobile RFL unit also visits the "Janokoida" shelter for indigenous peoples,, where migrants of the Warao ethnic group live.
Amarilis F. has been living in Pacaraima for two years and is now helping migrants contact their families as part of the ICRC RFL team. "Today I had a case of a father who had been unable to locate his daughter for the past three days. But, today we finally succeeded! He was very happy and so was I."
"Granny, you have to quit smoking!" Despite the distance, Dheret worries about his grandmother in Venezuela. At our post in Pacaraima he was able to make sure that everything was fine at home. Photo: F.Fornaris/ICRC
Ezequiel C. also enjoys helping people communicate with their relatives after their journeys. "I am thankful to these people because they express their gratitude for our work. We are here to help them and I want to keep doing just that," he concludes.