GENEVA, Switzerland, March 14, 2013/African Press Organization (APO)/ — Although the humanitarian situation in Somalia has improved slightly, there remain significant concerns: among them, the fate of more than 10,000 Somalis separated from their families. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is working to restore contact between family members.
“After two decades of conflict, the task of re-establishing contact between members of dispersed families and of establishing the whereabouts of people who are unaccounted for is immense,” said Asha Ismael, the head of ICRC tracing activities for Somalia. Together with the Somali Red Crescent Society and other Red Cross and Red Crescent societies around the world, the ICRC has been conducting a major operation to reunite people separated by conflict.
In Yemen, for instance, ICRC field officers like Mohamed Hersi are trying to put members of the Somali diaspora in touch with their relatives: “We ask the elders in all parts of Yemen to forward tracing lists to their tribe and clan members.” In South Africa, where about 70,000 Somalis live, the Somali Association of South Africa runs a family programme supported by the South African Red Cross and the ICRC. “Large numbers of people who had lost contact with other family members have been put back in touch with them, thanks to the programme,” said Amin Salat, one of the association’s senior officials.
The ICRC has set up a mobile phone service for the many Somalis who have found refuge in camps in neighbouring Kenya. When she was 19 years old, Yasmeen left Mogadishu for the Dadaab refugee camp: “The Red Cross/Red Crescent service enabled me to get in touch with an old childhood friend who had fled to South Africa,” she said. “She was the only person I could still contact.”
Radio programme helps people find their relatives
As radio remains the easiest way of reaching many Somalis, the ICRC and the BBC have been pooling efforts for many years to locate people whose whereabouts are not known. Each week, the ICRC provides 125 names of such people for the BBC Somali Service to read out. The Service broadcasts the names on a 15-minute programme that is aired five times a week. When people hear their names read out on the radio, they contact the ICRC or the Somali Red Crescent to get in touch with the relatives trying to find them.
Hashi who lives in Mogadishu, has lost touch with members of his family – his sisters, brothers, and in-laws. He submitted tracing requests to the Somali Red Crescent and now unfailingly tunes in to the BBC programme. Hashi says, “I hold this small radio to my ear every day; I bought it just for this purpose.”
Local and worldwide tracing services
The Somali Red Crescent has 23 offices throughout Somalia working to help people to re-establish and maintain ties with their relatives in the country and abroad. In 2012, 543 people submitted tracing requests for family members whose whereabouts were not known; 300 were located and put in touch with their families. All over the world, members of dispersed families seeking to restore contact with each other during or after a crisis can use familylinks.icrc.org, a new website that allows them to get in touch with dedicated specialists who will provide personal follow-up on enquiries. In 2012, the names of 12,000 people were posted on the website: they were all people whose families were looking for them. Anybody in the Somali diaspora can log on to and search the website.