Families split by civil war reunited by UAE charity

UAE Red Crescent is appealing for donations of winter clothing and blankets as winter hits Jordan and Yemen.

ABU DHABI // More than 5,000 Syrian families split apart by a bloody civil war have been reunited with help from the Red Crescent charity.

"Those who suffer most in the war are not the fighters, they are the women and children who have lost their home, lost their families, lost their contact with the people," Dr Saleh Al Taaei, secretary general adviser of the UAE Red Crescent, said yesterday.

"In any catastrophe, the main difficulty comes to families. Children, women and elderly run away from death and the affected area looking for a place that can give safety."

The charity is appealing for donations of winter clothing and blankets as winter hits Jordan and Yemen. It sent 16 trailers with 400 tonnes of food, clothing and blankets to its Jordan camp for Syrian refugees last month. Medicine was sent by plane.

"The children are shivering from the cold," said Fathiya Al Nazari, the charity's director of volunteers. "We have made a promise to them that we would bring clothes for the winter. Still now they need these things. More and more people are coming from Syria. It is a time of cold."

An additional 200 tonnes of supplies will be sent by trailer tomorrow.

"At this time in winter they need blankets, they need heavy clothing, they need heaters," said Humaid Rashed, manager of relief and emergency. "Right now there is not enough because every day more people are coming."

There are an additional 500 families in Yemen who need winter supplies, medicine and feminine hygiene products.

UAE Red Crescent treated 27,471 patients at its hospital in Mafraq, Jordan, from August 15 to October 31. This included 232 overnight patients, 166 small operations, 126 transfers to other hospitals and 30 babies delivered.

Training for volunteers continues. At a seminar yesterday volunteers were taught how to reunite displaced persons with their families.

They will help unite families in camps and across borders through registration, cooperation with other organisations and use of satellite phones.

In some cases, village elders with a strong knowledge of family history are given offices in camps to identify families.

"They are a bank of information for us for lost people," Dr Al Taaei said. "They have the family tree and the name of the grand-grand-grandfathers."

Red Crescent volunteers work closely with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which has authority under international law to work with government authorities. For example, during the Iraq War the ICRC connected jailed sons and husbands with family members receiving medical treatment in the UAE.

After connections are made, the volunteers help to organise the physical reunion of the families. They will also help to identify bodies.

UAE Red Crescent has helped missing and displaced people find their families since the 1998-99 Kosovo War. In Iraq alone, it has helped to connect more than 10,000 families since 2003.

These services are also essential in cases of natural disasters.

In Jordan, female volunteers are needed to work with women and children, who have the highest risk of exploitation.

"Our staff are trained on how to give the support, the protection, how to deal with a situation that is sometimes very complicated where she doesn't want to talk," Dr Al Taaei said. "It is very important to know first of all the full details about the woman and to make this support and to make the situation safe."

Shamma Al Ketbi, a Red Crescent volunteer in Jordan, estimates that at least half of the people she registers are looking for family members.

"Maybe 400 to 500 people come to the hospital in one day and maybe 200 to 300 are missing people, a husband, a father, a brother," she said. "We have old women, old men, with papers for registration. They need help, any help. There are girls with no mother, no father.

"They need to talk."