Iraq: Red Cross messages continue to provide vital link
In a run-down neighbourhood of Baghdad, a message from his son in captivity brings tears to a father's eyes. For many Iraqis, the messages remain the only means of contacting their loved ones. The ICRC's Ahmed al Rawi reports
The Red Cross car stopped in Abu Adshir, a poor area on the outskirts of Baghdad, where houses are run down and decrepit. Children stopped playing in the mud and women rushed to the windows, staring from behind the curtains at the unfamiliar scene of a clean white car in this neglected part of town. The ICRC team members greeted them, and asked for help to deliver a Red Cross Message to the family of Adnan, a young Iraqi detained by American forces.
As the address given on the message was incomplete a group of teenagers offered to look for Adnan's house. After an hour combing the streets of Abu Adshir, the ICRC team finally found its way to a small house with a rusty door. Adnan's father, leaning on a stick, stepped out to welcome the visitors.
Since the young man left the house one evening several weeks ago the family had been without news of him. After a fortnight of desperately trying to find his son, the father finally made his way to the ICRC's office in Baghdad to ask for help.
Seeing the Red Cross car arrive outside, the father initially feared the worst, imagining his son injured or killed. His fears soon vanished when he was told that his son was safe although in detention. With shaking hands he accepted the Red Cross message, reading it with tears in his eyes and a nervous smile.
While the neighbours gathered to have a look at the message the ICRC workers were made welcome inside the house and offered some tea. And as Adnan's father slowly wrote out a reply to his son the smiling ICRC driver tried to reassure him: " Your son is fine, he will come back home; just be patient " .
Since the beginning of major hostilities in March 2003, the ICRC in Iraq has collected and distributed more than 21,640 messages, including about 9,500 exchanged between detainees and their families.
Based on its humanitarian mandate defined by the Third and Fourth Geneva Conventions, the ICRC visits detainees – prisoners of war and civilians – in all major detention places under the authority of the Occupying Power. Family visits to detainees are only authorized in some prisons and camps, which means that for many detainees and their families Red Cross messages offer the only possibility to send a sign of life.