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Somalia: helping separated families stay in touch

09-07-2007 Feature

One of the tasks of the ICRC in Somalia is to reunite families separated by conflict or natural disaster. To meet this challenge, the organization uses a wide range of tools, including the Red Cross message system, its family links website and radio broadcasts.


©ICRC / Pedram Yazdi / so-e-00229    
  Anab reading a Red Cross Message from her daughter in Yemen.    

Somalia is a country wracked by conflict and a series of natural disasters. Hundreds of thousands of people have been forced to flee their homes seeking food, water and safer grazing lands for their livestock in other parts of the country.

Some le ave the country altogether to become refugees languishing in holding camps in neighbouring lands.

Anab still lives in Somalia. The home she shares with her daughter is a makeshift shelter put together from corrugated iron sheeting. Her other daughter is in Al-Kharaz, a refugee camp in Yemen where thousands of Somalis have fled.

ICRC local staff collect messages from Somali refugees in Yemen to enable them to stay in touch with their families. Often, this is the only way they can stay in touch, albeit a few words to ease the pain of separation. " I am well, in good health. Say hello to family and friends. "

These messages are precious, maintaining a fine thread of social cohesion and relieving the burden of loneliness for many.

Anab knows Maulid well – he's one of the Somali Red Crescent Society (SRCS) volunteers who delivers her daughter's messages.

" I deliver messages from all around the world " Maulid says proudly. " They come from all over Somalia but also from Africa, Europe and even from America " .

Anab will reply to the latest news from her daughter, but she wants to take her time over it and so she will bring her message to the SRCS office when it's ready.

" My daughter sends me long letters, I read them again and again, - until the next Red Cross Message comes " , says Anab.



Re-establishing family links 

In partnership with the SRCS, the ICRC has been helping restore family li nks in Somalia since the early 1990s.

The service includes:

  •  Red Cross Messages These'open letters'allow people to transmit family news when they know a relative's location but traditional means of communication have been disrupted. Since January 2006, 24'924 Somalis exchanged Red Cross Messages with relatives abroad. Many others send messages to family members uprooted within the country.

©ICRC / Pedram Yazdi / so-e-00253    
Red Cross Messages    
  •  Tracing Requests : this service helps people who wish to locate their relatives and re-establish contact with them but do not know their address. So far in 2007, 1'193 requests have been opened, 657 of them concern chil dren.

  •  Joint ICRC-BBC Missing Person Programme  : Scheduled six times per week by the BBC Somalia Service, this 15-minute radio programme broadcasts the names of Somalis sought by their relatives. This radio programme has a worldwide audience. Since 2006, 10'077 names have been broadcast.

  • The Somali Family Links Website includes the names of people sought through the'Joint ICRC-BBC Missing Person Programme'and through Tracing Requests. Since 2006, 9'605 names have been posted on this website.
  • Since 2006, the ICRC has also issued 128 Travel Documents . These documents are issued by the ICRC on the request of an embassy, a UN body or recognised state institution, when a person lacks documents enabling them to travel. 

In Somalia, the population can obtain access to tracing services through Somali Red Crescent Field Workers and Volunteers or by going directly to one of the 22 tracing offices in the country. Somalis abroad can contact the closest ICRC, Red Cross or Red Crescent National office in their country of residence.