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Afghanistan: persons held in Bagram and their families reunite

23-09-2008 News Release 08/176

Kabul/Geneva (ICRC) – The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the United States military authorities in Afghanistan have announced the start today of the first face-to-face visits between individuals currently held at Bagram Theater Internment Facility and their respective families.

This initiative comes in the wake of a programme established in January 2008 to enable families to communicate with their relatives held in Bagram via a videophone link. The programme has been a major success, with nearly 1,500 calls made over the last eight months between persons held in Bagram and their families, who had come to the ICRC delegation in Kabul from around the country.

Mohammada Jan, whose brother-in-law is being held at Bagram, is one of many Afghans who have used the video calls in the past few months and who will travel to Bagram today. " The first time I saw Safiullah on the screen, I just cried. I was so happy and so sad at the same time, " he says. " But this time it will be different. When we visit him in Bagram, we want to make sure that he is not upset about seeing us, but draws strength from the experience. "

Families will be allowed to visit their relatives for 60 minutes each and the visits are expected to be repeated regularly. The ICRC will help families to participate by reimbursing the travel expenses they incur between their homes and Kabul. Initially, the ICRC will also provide transportation for the families between Kabul and Bagram Air Base.

" The videophone system was an important first step in reassuring family members that their relatives held in Bagram were alive and well, and vice-versa, because it gave them the opportunity to see and speak to one another, " said Franz Rauchenstein, head of the ICRC delegation in Afghanistan. " However, for the families and their detained relatives, nothing can replace the intensity of meeting face-to-face. We have continued to work with the US authorities to make such visits a reality, and we are very happy for the families that they now have this opportunity. "

The ICRC has been working in Afghanistan since 1987. It has been visiting the US detention facility in Bagram since January 2002. As part of its humanitarian mandate, the ICRC helps individuals held in connection with the ongoing armed conflict to establish and maintain contact with their families. This is largely done through exchanges of Red Cross messages – written messages to relatives made otherwise unreachable by conflict.

  For further information, please contact:
  Franz Rauchenstein, ICRC Kabul, tel: +93700 282 719
  Abdul Hassib Rahimi, ICRC Kabul, tel: +93700 276 465
  Simon Schorno, ICRC Geneva, tel: +41 22 730 24 26 or +41 79 251 93 02