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Libya: man reunited with family after 43 years apart

09-11-2012 News Footage Ref. AV036N

On the occasion of the launch of its new restoring family links website, the ICRC presents the story of a Libyan refugee in Switzerland who is reunited with his family after 43 years of separation. Through a Red Cross message written by the family in Libya and transmitted by the ICRC Benghazi office, the Swiss Red Cross was able to locate Mr Al-Naji. The newly established website familylinks.icrc.org will now facilitate the work of the Red Cross Red Crescent to help restore contact between family members.

  • Footage available from the ICRC Video Newsroom
  • Transmitted worldwide on Eurovision News Exchange, from 12 November, 10:00 GMT

For more information, please contact Didier Revol, ICRC Geneva, tel: +41 22 730 36 81, e-mail



Benghazi, May 2012. As he steps onto the tarmac at the airport of his hometown for the first time in 43 years, Abdussalem Al-Naji is overwhelmed by emotion. He is greeted by his brothers, cousins and friends, as well as numerous children born to his relatives in his absence. That morning, Abdussalem was still in his flat in Dättwil, a small, quiet town in the Swiss canton of Aargau.


Exiled in Switzerland since the 1969 coup that brought Gaddafi to power, Abdussalem married Frieda, had three children and worked as an engineer at the Revox factory in Baden. Now 72, the retiree had severed all connections with his past. Until the day he got a call from the Swiss Red Cross, in December 2011. He learnt that his brother-in-law Ahmed was looking for him and had written him a message: "My dear brother, I pray to God to reunite us as soon as possible. I am in good health; the only thing missing is to see you again."


This message, collected by the ICRC office in Benghazi and forwarded to the Swiss Red Cross tracing service in Bern, was finally delivered in person to Abdussalem Al-Naji. As Nicole Windlin, head of restoring family links at the Swiss Red Cross, explains: "We were able to track down the Naji family quickly and our colleague delivered the message from his relatives. It's very important to support these people at such an emotional time." Abdussalem filled in the Red Cross message reply form on the spot, which was sent back to his brother-in-law.


At that point, telephone calls started going back and forth between Switzerland and Libya. Abdussalem spoke to his family every week, catching up on the good and the bad news. It was a shock to learn of the death of his mother during his absence. For 43 years, apart from some sporadic telephone calls in the early 1980s, they had chosen to sever all ties.


Because of fears about their safety, Abdussalem and his family in Libya decided to cease all contact. Silence fell between them. No more telephone calls or letters. The change of regime in 2011 put an end to 43 long years apart.






The ICRC's new website familylinks.icrc.org launches on 13 November 2012. Its purpose is to make people aware of the services provided by the ICRC and the National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies to trace missing persons.


Unlike the various sites set up in the past in response to specific crises, this new website is permanently online and covers all the environments in which the ICRC and the National Societies work. The user-friendly site provides all the information you need to start a search for a missing relative – in particular the contact details of the people and units working on restoring family links throughout the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement.


The website is available in English and contains videos, photos and text illustrating the range of services available. The Arabic, French and Spanish versions should be launched in 2013.


A television advertisement has been produced to make people aware of the site's existence (see TC 05 23 in the news cut). This will be broadcast in countries affected by a conflict or a violent incident.












00 00: Panoramic shot of Baden and the surrounding area (Dättwil).


00 07: Abdussalem Al-Naji packs his suitcase, helped by his wife Frieda (two shots).


00 16: ITW Al-Naji (German – 10 sec): "I'm overjoyed. Seeing your family again after 43 years – it's like being born again."


00 26: Al-Naji picks up his passport.


00 32: Accompanied by his wife, Al-Naji walks towards a taxi outside his home in Switzerland.


00 40: The taxi drives away, Frieda waves.


00 47: Benghazi airport. Panoramic shot of the arrivals hall.


00 55: On the tarmac – the plane with Al-Naji on board.


01 00: Al-Naji steps out of the plane, helped by his brother-in-law Ahmed. He falls into his family's arms.


01 19: He greets and kisses his friends and family (two shots).


01 34: Night-time traffic in Benghazi, filmed from the car taking Al-Naji to the family home.


01 39: Al-Naji is greeted by the women in the house.


01 54: Close-up of a dish of couscous, zoom out to reveal Al-Naji in conversation with an ICRC delegate.


02 03: Al-Naji walks towards his mother's grave.


02 10: Shot of the cemetery.


02 15: Close-up of Al-Naji crying over the grave.


02 29: He prays with his brother.


02 36: Al-Naji takes photos of his mother's grave.


02 41: Leaving the cemetery (two shots).


02 54: ITW Al-Naji (Arabic – 18 sec): "What is there to say? All you can do is cry when you're reunited with your family after 43 years."


03 12: Al-Naji and his brother-in-law drive through the streets of Benghazi city centre.


03 29: Caricature of Gaddafi on a wall.


03 34: Al-Naji strolls through the arcades (two shots).


03 44: He stops in front of a mosque.


03 51: ITW Al-Naji (Arabic – 15 sec): "What really matters is seeing your family. Thank God, they are all well. Yes, that's what counts. Benghazi hasn't changed. It will be the same 1,000 years from now."


04 06: ITW Marie-Therese Stengel, from the ICRC office in Benghazi (English – 21 sec)

"In many countries, including Libya but also Switzerland and many other Western countries, family links services are often unknown to the general public. So, people do actually not know that the Red Cross and the Red Crescent Societies and the International Committee of the Red Cross can help them to locate a missing family member and re-establish the contact with this family member."


04 27: ITW Nicole Windlin, head of restoring family links at the Swiss Red Cross (German – 18 sec)

"Thanks to our tracing network in Switzerland, we were able to track down the Naji family quickly and our colleague delivered the message from his relatives. It's very important to support these people at such an emotional time."


04 45: Swiss Red Cross staff carying out searches for missing persons using the new website.


04 51: ITW Nicole Windlin (German – 17 sec)

"We are delighted with this new website, because we think it's very important that people around the world who are looking for a family member should have access to our network. On this new website, you'll find information about our services and be directed to the right person."


05 08: Close-ups of the screen with the new website in use (three shots).


05 23: ICRC television advertisement produced for the launch of the new website.


05 53: END


For further information, please contact:

Soaade Messoudi, ICRC Tripoli, tel: + 881 622 435 156 or + 218 913 066 198

Marie-Servane Desjonquères, ICRC Geneva, tel: +41 79 536 92 58 or +41 22 730 31 60

Visit the ICRC page about Libya:



or the restoring family links page:



To download this video, go to www.icrcvideonewsroom.org

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  • Copyright: ICRC Access All
  • Release year: May 2012
  • Production locations: Switzerland, Libya
  • Running time: 5.53
  • Languages available: (Sound) English, French, Arabic
  • Reference: AV036N

Format: Mpeg2 / 16:9 / SD