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Southern Afghanistan: Red Cross messages reunite hundreds of detainees with their families every month

25-06-2007 Feature

In Southern Afghanistan, ICRC delegates regularly visit detainees in places of detention throughout the region. As part of this work, the ICRC offers detainees the opportunity to maintain contact with their families their through Red Cross messages.

Throughout the world, the ICRC visits people detained in relation to conflicts. ICRC delegates have a constructive dialogue with detaining authorities to discuss conditions of detention and treatment and make confidential recommendations to the authorities on improvements.

In Southern Afghanistan, ICRC delegates make regular visits to detainees in: Sarpoza, National Security Directorate, Central Police Station, as well as to Canadian, British and Dutch detention facilities in Kandahar, Helmand and Uruzgan.

 'They're alive!'  

Haji Kamaludin Khan if from Grishk District in Helmand Province. His two sons were arrested in 2005. He recalls: " We did not have any information about our sons and had no idea what had happened to them, whether they were alive or dead. After several month of distress I was referred to the ICRC who had been visiting them in prison and who gave me Red Cross messages that had been written by my sons. It was great news to learn that they were still alive. "

Having received the good news, Haji Kamaludin Khan returned to his village where he told other families who were missing loved ones about the service that the ICRC provides. Since then a number of other families from the village have also come to correspond with their relatives.

For those detained in Bagram and particularly Guantanamo Bay this service is particularly important, given the complete lack of other means of communication with their families, and whilst the messages may take some time to arrive, their individual value is not to be underestimated.

Haji Abdul Rahman Sohail, who is responsible for the message service at the ICRC sub-delegation in Kandahar, remembers one father who came to the ICRC searching for news of his son:

" The son had been missing for a long time and a credible source had even told him that his son was dead. Refusing to give up, the father was referred to the ICRC. After checking in the database I was able to tell the father that his son was alive, but detained in Bagram. Despite his son's detention, the father was delighted to know that his son was still alive and to learn of his whereabouts. The father went away extremely happy. "

One of Haji Kamaludin Khan's sons has now been released, but for the other son the ICRC remains the sole means of communication with his family.

" Our family greatly appreciates the message service, which has kept us together, even though we have been apart, " Mr Khan concluded gratefully.

 378 Red Cross messages (RCM) written by detainees have been handed over to there families in Southern Afghanistan in January and February 2007, and another 288 have been passed from families to detainees.  

Health care 

Mirwais Hospital

The ICRC has begun the process of expanding its support from only the Surgical Department to the entire Hospital. This new long-term project means that the ICRC will be working directly with the hospital to raise its standards over time to those of a genuine regional hospital.

As the support increases the ICRC will be looking to provide medical and non-medical

training, a s well as pharmaceutical and equipment support as established in needs assessments.

During the first two months of 2007, 4,936 patients have received treatment either as inpatients (942) or as outpatients (3,996).


 War wounded materials program  

The ICRC sub-delegation has emergency supplies of basic materials available for any health structure or personnel who receive a sudden influx of trauma patients.

Mine action 
  • collected data on 56 mine victims from city hospitals and clinics;

  • provided mine risk education for 39 drivers;

  • supported Afghan Red Crescent Society's Mine Action Program;

  • Coordination of mine action activities with other agencies.

Water, habitat and hygiene promotion 
  • The ICRC team began work on a water network in Mirwais Mina on 19 February 2007. As a result of this project, more than 12,000 people will be supplied with clean water both for drinking and hygiene purposes. A 2,800-metre trench has been excavated and 2,500 metres of pipe have been laid. It will take approximately 12 months to complete this project. An identical enterprise in Mir Bazaar is nearing completion. The concrete drainage is finished and only the construction of a few latrines remains.

  • In Sarpoza prison the ICRC also completed work on a water project and some pump installation.

The hygiene promotion team conducted 119 knowledge aptitude practices (KAP):

  • (KAP) sessions in households in Mirwais Mina

  • Hygiene promoter visited 112 compounds, met elders of Mirwais Mina and filled out 112 hygiene promotion questionnaires.

Thirty compounds were visited and monitored in Mir Bazaar to identify changes in the behaviour of inhabitants and five basic hygiene promotion messages were passed to the elder or person in charge of the compound. In addition, hygiene promotion messages were explained to the Afghan Red Crescent Society (ARCS) Community Based First Aid (CBFA) team leaders of all southern provinces.

Promotion of international humanitarian law (IHL) 

The ICRC conducts sessions on the Law of Armed Conflict, the significance of the Red Cross/Red Crescent Emblems, the current activities of ICRC, and the importance of neutral and independent humanitarian action.

In January and February 2007, fifteen sessions were organized for 788 participants from the following groups:

  • Afghan National Army

  • Afghan National Auxiliary Police (ANAP)

  • religious groups

  • madrasas

  • government authorities.

Cooperation with the Afghan Red Crescent Society 

The ICRC supports the Afghan Red Crescent Society offices in Kandahar, Helmand, Zabul and Uruzgan.
  • The ICRC and ARCS have distributed emergency assistance kits to 992 conflict and flood-affected families during January and February 2007 in Uruzgan and Helmand provinces.


  • financially supports the ARCS;

  • supports the CBFA network;

  • supports 3 health clinics (BPHS);

  • supports 30 Vocational Training Programs;

  • supports 27 Food For Work projects, mainly concerned with Kariez repair and construction.

 The ICRC has been present in Afghanistan since 1986 and in Kandahar since 1996. Its main delegation is in Kabul, with sub-delegations in Herat, Kandahar, Mazar-i-Sharif and Jalalabad. There are ICRC offices in Gulbahar, Kunduz, Faiz Abad and Bamyan. With 58 expatriate and 1,127 national staff, the Afghanistan mission is one of the ICRC's largest operations worldwide.