World Refugee Day is held every year on June 20. It is a special day when the world takes time to recognize the resilience of forcibly displaced people throughout the world. For World Refugee Day 2014, the theme "1 family torn apart by war is too many" is embraced by organizations assisting refugees worldwide. The Red Cross, through the Restoring Family Links program, works to re-connect families separated by conflict or natural disasters. The process of unifying families can take years, even decades.
The American Red Cross of Central New York works with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and other national Red Cross or Red Crescent societies around the world. The reunification, after 22 years, of Syracuse resident Nur Jahan and her daughter, Sahasa Khatun, and their story exemplifies the struggles of so many of the resettled refugees here in Central New York. Without the Red Cross Restoring Family Links (RFL) program, it is highly unlikely that this reunion would ever have occurred. Nur and Sahasa shared their story with Red Cross volunteer Kayla Kelechian:
In the spring of 2013 while living in a refugee camp in Thailand, Sahasa Khatun sought the assistance of the ICRC to locate her parents. She had been separated from them in 1989, when they decided to cross the border into Thailand to avoid the persecution in Burma. They took her infant sister and fully intended to come back and retrieve Sahasa from her grandmother’s care. The family was never able to return and reunify the family. Sahasa lost her grandmother, was treated poorly by an uncle and eventually married.
Ultimately, she and her family were forced to flee to a camp in Thailand and lost contact with anyone who knew of her whereabouts or well-being. Her husband was arrested and detained. Left with her four children to care for, Sahasa turned to the ICRC for assistance. She initiated tracing requests for both of her parents. Sahasa’s father was located in another camp with a new family and they made plans to reunite. Sadly, he died the day of the reunion. During this same period, the ICRC traced her mother Nur Jahan to Indiana and then to Syracuse.
After many attempts, Nur was located by CNY Restoring Family links workers who gave her the first communication she had with her daughter in 22 years. The same week that the Red Cross message was delivered to Nur, Sahasa called her mother because her father had a telephone number to reach her sisters. Nur and her daughters were able to send photos and documents back through the Red Cross. Contact was sporadic because Sahasa was relocated to other camps in Bangladesh and then back to Thailand. During this time RFL workers in Syracuse continued to meet with Nur and her daughters and were attempting to set up a video conferencing call through the ICRC. Happily, Sahasa’s husband was released from prison and the whole family was given permission to resettle with family here in the United States. At the end of April Sahasa, her husband and their four children arrived in Syracuse. Without the assistance of Red Cross units around the globe, Sahasa would never have reunited wit h her father in Thailand, much less reunite with her mother and sister, meet a sister she never knew about, or find a safe haven for her husband and four children here in Syracuse.
Photos: The reunited Khatun family in Syracuse.