While the humanitarian situation in Somalia has improved slightly, there remain significant humanitarian concerns across the country. After two decades of fighting, tens of thousands of people have been separated from their families. The whereabouts of at least 12,000 people are unknown. Despite the passing of time, some Somalis are as determined as ever to find their loved ones.
Batulo and her family lost everything during the conflict. She has been living in a camp for displaced people in Mogadishu for four years. It has been four years since she lost touch with her husband. After asking the Red Crescent to locate him, Batulo received news in 2012 that he was in Nairobi, in neighbouring Kenya. The Red Crescent then helped her to contact him.
Despite the increasing availability of mobile phones in Somalia, sending a Red Cross/Red Crescent message is not something from the past. For Somalis who live in camps and in rural areas, it is often the only means of communication at their disposal.
Just after Batulo re-established contact with her husband, he passed away. Batulo continued to send Red Cross/Red Crescent messages to her brother-in-law, and discovered that her husband had fathered more children in Nairobi. Batulo is sad that her husband is gone, but she continues to send family messages to her brother-in-law. She says: “I am very happy because we are getting in touch with people who have been gone for a long time.”
As radio remains the best way of reaching many Somalis, the Red Cross and the BBC have combined their efforts to seek out people whose whereabouts are unknown. After names are collected by the Red Cross/Red Crescent, the BBC Somali Service airs the names during a 15-minute radio programme five times a week. In 2012, 10,000 names were read out.
Hashi, who lives in Mogadishu, has submitted a tracing request to the Red Crescent for his brothers, whom he has not seen since the beginning of the conflict. Holding on to a small radio, he always tunes in to the BBC programme. “I hold this radio to my ear every day,” he says. “I bought it just for this purpose.”
The ICRC has set up a website listing the names of 12,000 people whose families are searching for them.. The Somali diaspora can log in and look for a family member. Everywhere in 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 specialists who will provide personal follow-up on enquiries.
Over the last 10 years, the Irish Red Cross has assisted over 300 Somali nationals in Ireland and abroad with requests for tracing and family messaging.
The 30th of August marks the International Day of the Disappeared. It’s the day when we draw attention to the fate of missing people and the lives of their families who cope with the uncertainty of not knowing whether their loved ones are alive or dead.
To learn more about the Irish Red Cross’ role in Restoring Family Links, see www.redcross.ie#dayofthedisappeared