June 20 is World Refugee Day, a day to recognize the strength and courage of those forced to flee their home countries. Trying to escape conflict or persecution, refugees seek safety across borders and often experience tremendous difficulties. Families can spend years — or decades — in limbo as they search for a better life.
Last year, more than 100 million people were forcibly displaced globally — a record number propelled by the war in Ukraine and other conflicts around the world. For millions of refugees who are forcibly displaced each year due to conflict, violence and persecution, fleeing is the first step in a long and difficult journey to finding safety.
The Global Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement works to alleviate human suffering. Red Cross teams protect the rights of refugees through humanitarian work. For its part, the American Red Cross helps refugees in the United States and supports broader disaster relief and reunification around the globe. Here are three stories of refugees finding hope and connection as they rebuild their lives.
In Colorado, Red Cross Volunteers Connect Long Lost Mother and Daughter
Red Cross volunteers in Colorado were able to help reconnect Mujinga Tchombela and her mother, 20 years after the Congo War separated them. At 10 years old, Mujinga last saw her mother in 1998 in her hometown of Kalemie in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Her last memory of her mother is of her peacefully asleep as she left for church with her three siblings.
“When we came back from the church, we saw there were military people in our house,” Mujinga said. “When you see something like that, it is hard to come closer because sometimes everybody is going to die when they shoot. So, we decided to run away. Since then, I never saw my parents.”
As the Second Congo War broke out across the country, Mujinga and her brothers were among the thousands of Congolese civilians caught between fighting military forces. Eventually, they concluded that their parents did not make it out alive. The siblings fled to neighboring Zambia and were eventually granted asylum in the United States in 2011.
Since that time, Mujinga has never stopped looking for her family. After searching Facebook, she realized that her mother may still be alive. “That’s when I said maybe the Red Cross can help me with that case,” she said.
A Red Cross Restoring Family Links (RFL) volunteer in Colorado worked with her to find connections and eventually track down her mom halfway around the globe. Mujinga remembered details of her church and Red Cross volunteers were able to connect to religious leaders and eventually locate her mother.
Through interpreters, mother and daughter were able to connect after 20 years. “After the Red Cross did all the miracle things they did,” she said. “I was able to talk to my mom. I couldn’t speak, and she couldn’t speak too. We were just crying. She was thinking we all died, and from 1998 until 2020 I thought she was dead too.”
As part of the Restoring Family Links program, the American Red Cross provides peace of mind to thousands of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants by helping them reconnect with their families abroad. People looking for loved ones can find more information on the Red Cross Restoring Family Links website. Read more about Mujinga’s story here.
In Hungary, Red Cross Shelter Provides Safe Space
At a shelter in Szegad, Hungary, Liubov shares how the Red Cross has helped her since she fled the Donbas region of Ukraine in 2022.
“The Red Cross gives me hope,” she said. “I came in July and didn’t have any warm clothes for the cold. With help from the Red Cross, I bought this sweater that I’m wearing,” she said.
In Hungary, the local Red Cross ensures that displaced Ukrainians are aware of a cash assistance program to help meet their immediate needs. Liubov says that the program has been a huge help for her, allowing her to buy much-needed essentials. IFRC officials stress that cash assistance is about empowerment, allowing people to determine their own needs and quickly address them.
“I am alone here, and it has been so hard but at the shelter, I am safe. I am warm. Here, I am comfortable. We can cook meals from home here. I have a safe place to live,” she said.
Liubov says that she misses her family members, including her son who is still in Ukraine and cannot leave the country. With tears in her eyes, she points to the pictures on her wall of painted hearts from her grandchildren, who are currently living at a shelter in Sweden. “I’ve found happiness here, but my heart is with my family. I miss them and worry about them every day,” she said.
Read more about Liubov’s story here.
In Türkiye, Red Cross Helps Refugees Rebuild After Quake
For Houda Al-Fadil, starting over wasn’t by choice. She was forced to flee a war-torn Syria, leaving her home behind so she could protect her family and offer them a chance at a better life—a life away from bombing, hunger and fear.
In Kahramanmaraş, Türkiye, Houda signed up for cooking courses at Turkish Red Crescent community centers to pursue a food business.
“Thanks to these courses, I learned how to buy and sell. I learned about Turkish traditions and the Turkish community, and I felt included. They brought together people from Türkiye and Syria, and I was able to learn from both. They also organized a cooking festival where I was able to sell food that I had prepared at home,” she said.
The courses inspired her to create new recipes that combined Syrian and Turkish ingredients. Selling her dishes from home, she quickly built up a loyal following of customers who loved her unique culinary concoctions.
When the earthquake struck on February 6, Houda was once again left to pick up the pieces. Her family survived but her bustling business had to shutter as facilities were damaged and the town was in ruins.
“Most of my customers fled Kahramanmaraş after the earthquake. Some people moved to Istanbul, Bursa and Mersin. Others sadly passed away. I only have two customers left now.”
Once again, the Turkish Red Crescent stepped up to assist — this time to offer gardening classes. She says the support from Red Crescent volunteers has been key to this latest setback.
When Houda thinks about the future, she imagines her business once again thriving. “I still aspire to do it. My culinary dream lives on. Everyone should hold on to their ambitions and not give up early on. Stay strong in front of the challenges that lie ahead!”
To read more about Houda’s journey, visit here.
More information about how the American Red Cross helps migrants, refugees and asylum seekers can be found here.