Thursday, June 28, 2012

Celebrating World Refugee Day in June at the Red Cross

Written by Haben Tewlede, intern staff contributor

It has been an exciting month here at the American Red Cross North Texas Region Dallas Area chapter. Our staff and volunteers have had the pleasure of hosting and attending our first ever International Services (IS) Open House, as well as attending a Restoring Family Links casework course. To say the least, it has been an informative couple of days here for all who are involved with, or simply interested in learning more about, how we help war victims and displaced families re-establish their lives.

American Red Cross tracing caseworker Mark Owens met Iraqi refugee Ali Alhasani at our Certificate of Detention presentation.

Certificate of Detention Presentation

We started last week off with the humbling experience of presenting Iraqi refugees with their Certificates of Detention. At this event IS staff and volunteers had the opportunity to greet and converse with Iraqi refugees, like Ali Alhasani (shown above). Despite the unappealing title, and negative connotation associated with the word detention, Iraqi refugees currently seeking these documents are actually fortunate to have possession of these records. With their certificates, displaced Iraqis are able to prove that they were victims of Hussein’s despotic government. These certificates serve a psychological purpose for recovering victims to help provide something tangible to a very confusing and traumatic chapter in their lives. These certificates can also serve a significant purpose to refugees as their home countries become restored and returning to their homeland becomes a possibility again.

Alhasani, just like many of our other refugee clients, came to the ARC with a remarkable background. Similar to many of his political refugee counterparts, he endured tremendous adversity just to be in an environment where he wouldn’t feel like his life was in constant jeopardy. Alhasani came to America as a political refugee in 1993, as a direct result of Hussein’s regime; more specifically because of Hussein’s provocation of the First Gulf War. I asked Alhasani why he came to America, and he explained that, “(he) needed escape Iraq. There was no safe there, they were killing political refugees!”

I then asked him how he was able to get to America. He explained that once his wife was arrested for political reasons, and he was separated from his uncle, he approached American soldiers in an apprehensive plea for help. The soldiers then sent him to the Artawiya POW camp, where he lived in harsh a conditions, and was eventually transferred to the Rafha refugee camp; from there he was permitted to come to America on account of the U.S. political asylum policies of the time. Alhasani went on to explain that he’s making plans to return to Iraq within a year, now that Hussein’s government has been overthrown. Alhasani is a buoyant man, and with the help of the ARC he hopes to restart his life, with his wife and family in the country he once feared to live in. Fortunately for the Alhasani family the ARC is here to help them reconnect, through our Restoring Family Links (RFL) services.

Mark Owens shares his stories from his work reconnecting families across the globe at the International Services open house in Dallas.

A Visit from Tracing Caseworker Mark Owens

International Services National Tracing Caseworker Mark Owens led and initiated a presentation to our team with anecdotes of the work he does, and the experiences he has had as a caseworker. He described the hardships experienced by refugees at camps. He explained how people would travel on foot for miles thorough war torn lands. Some refugees are exploited, raped, or murdered by bandits along the way. One story that remains engraved in my memory is of some children who were playing in the outskirts of their village, when a militant group began an ethnic cleansing raid against their village and families. The children were forced to watch their homes and lives destroyed as the escaped alone to a camp, with nothing more than their lives. It’s people like this that Red Cross aspires to help, and reconnect with the living members of their families. Owens explains that “the most gratifying part of my job is when I make a successful reconnection.” He told us of joy he receives after having seen just a photograph of a reunited family is what allows him to value the importance of the work he engages in.

Special thanks to Brian Moeschler and his team for putting together this informative and engaging open house! If you missed this special evening and want to learn more about getting involved in International Services, please contact Brian at

Red Cross International Services workers learn new ways to connect people to their loved ones after crisis using Restoring Family Links.
Family Links (RFL) Casework Course

Red Cross staff and volunteers were also invited to participate in the Restoring Family Links (RFL) Casework Course. The Course is a 7 hour seminar intended for potential caseworkers. Restoring Family Links provides foreign clients with a means to reconnect with their family after being separated by conflict. The Red Cross is able to make this possible with the support and collective file records of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), The International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC) and the National Red Cross and Crescent Societies around the world. The RFL Casework Course touched on every aspect of the ARC’s effort to service these particular clients which included: an overview of RFL services, lessons on cross-communications, RFL eligibility criteria and initial case intake, process of conducting client interviews, procedure on delivering news to inquiring clients, resources for the searches, techniques on searching within communities, and how to document case notes. A particularly thought provoking facet of the course was a video of refugee’s and immigrant’s testimonials of their experience of trying to assimilated into American society. It really put the hardship they must overcome in the USA even, after going through inexpressible adversity in their native lands, into perspective.

Although this course is obviously intended to teach International Services members how to properly engage in Restoring Family Links, in accordance with the American Red Cross’ principles, the major take away of the course is understanding the magnitude of the work we do. It’s self-evident that every human is entitled to a handful of basic necessities including, but not restricted to, dignity and the ability to have contact with their loved ones. Although we are all distinctively different we are also undeniably more similar. International Services deals with people’s lives, and more specifically we deal with one of the most vital aspects of their lives; family. For the average American staying in contact with you family is as simple as making sure you save their contact info into a personal phone; but to the clients we help at International Services we are more then likely their last resort of their anxious attempt to reconnect.

To learn more about our Restoring Family Links program or to become engaged in our International Services division, visit us at

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