Red Cross reunites families with 185,000 calls and messages in Ethiopia
In nine months from January 2022, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Ethiopian Red Cross Society (ERCS) have helped some of these families remain in touch through more than 185,000 free phone calls and exchange of messages, particularly in Northern Ethiopia where fighting continues.
When families live apart during a humanitarian crisis, there is the fear and uncertainty of not knowing the whereabouts of their loved ones or how they are doing. This can have long-term psychological, health and social consequences. Children, especially those who find themselves alone, face unimaginable suffering and remain without the care they need.
"It is difficult for everyone and the uncertainty is frightening. We work to restore these family links and to give families a greater sense of security," says Kristina Sofia Imbach Von Arx, ICRC Protection Coordinator in Ethiopia.
The ICRC and ERCS are committed to reconnecting separated families in Ethiopia, including with those living abroad. And when family reunification is possible, desired and safe, our teams facilitate it in the knowledge that keeping families together nurtures their well-being.
The exchange of family news relieves those separated of their worst fears, but it is not a long-term solution.
Since January 2021, the ICRC and ERCS have provided a total of 367,000 successful phone calls and messages to affected families throughout the country to exchange news about themselves. Many families find hope and protection in our services when conflict and crisis pull them apart in Ethiopia.
My family is in the north of Ethiopia, said Silas in Addis Ababa. I could not communicate with them for four months when the conflict started. Not having any information [about them] was difficult to process. I was terrified by the situation. I felt hopeless and stressed.
She says it was particularly hard because of the uncertainty of what could happen to them. Silas eventually heard from her family through a letter (Red Cross Message) they sent to her through the ICRC. She considers that day her greatest moment of relief.
"I cannot express the feelings in words," says Silas. "I was also able to hear my brother's voice seven months later [when he called] through the Red Cross. When I received the call, I was a bit confused. It took me time to believe that I was talking to my family member from home. All my fears were gone in seconds."
There are thousands of people in Ethiopia who do not know the whereabouts or fate of their loved ones. Many of them are worried about their family members trapped in areas affected by armed conflict or natural disasters – but cannot reach them. The ICRC and ERCS continue to work hard to locate and reunite separated persons even in the most remote and challenging places.
In areas where communication services are difficult, Red Cross teams provide phone calls, including satellite calls of 1-2 minutes per family if the situation demands so. They are also given the opportunity to exchange written messages among other tools used to help separated persons restore and maintain contact with their families.
In Ethiopia, people who do not know where their relatives are, can contact the ICRC or ERCS to help them find missing persons within and outside the country. Our Protection of Family Links (PFL) team gets in contact with colleagues on the field and other International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement partners to trace and identify family members who are separated.