Restoring Family Links
Every year, thousands of family members are separated by conflicts, disasters or migration. People suffer terribly when they lose contact with their loved ones and don't know where they are or whether they are safe.
The ICRC and National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies work together around the world to locate people and put them back in touch with their relatives. This work includes looking for family members, restoring contact, reuniting families and seeking to clarify the fate of those who remain missing.
In Cambodia, it has been extraordinarily successful. After decades of civil war, bombing, mass murder and famine, almost 36,000 people have been reunited with their families. To learn more about our tracing service, click here.
Boon Auan Khamsook is originally from a remote village in the north-west of Cambodia. In 1974, she went across to the Thai border to sell charcoal. When the Khmer Rouge sealed the border she was trapped on the Thai side and unable to return home. It was the last time she ever saw her family. This is Boon Auan today and her Thai husband, Malee Khamsook, outside their home in Si Saket province, Thailand.
Last year, Boon Auan received a call from an unknown number. "I picked up the phone and the first words I heard were, ‘My daughter, I’m still alive!' I was stunned. I could remember my mother’s voice, I felt so happy and so grateful."
After years of separation, civil war, bombing and occupation, Boon Auan had located her family in Cambodia.
Boon Auan, on her way to the border to visit her family in Cambodia for the first time in over 40 years.
Boon Auan arrives at her childhood home to pay respect to her mother for the first time in decades. Her mother Kul Art, now 77, is presented with a symbolic offering of incense and money.
A sister joins them. Then a brother. Within minutes, there are a handful of relatives, young and old, all pouring water over the elderly woman. The ceremony is called Srong Peah. It is a cleansing ceremony for washing away sins of those who perform it, seeking forgiveness for sins of the past and for wishing the elders good health.
After the ceremony, there is a pause as Boon Auan dries her mother with towels and traditional Khmer scarves. "I feel happy, there is no worry now," she says, visibly relieved. "I’ve been waiting more than 40 years for this moment."
Boon Auan with her sister Rim Ean and mother Kul Art look over the family photos of a life she never knew. A family history of displacement and war.
Reflecting over their separate lives, Boon Auan’s sense of dislocation is palpable. Her family endured the horrors of the Khmer Rouge and years of conflict. While the reunion can never bridge the gap of experience, none of it matters to the family. They’re just relieved she is well and happy.