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Recent conflict highlights the need for Red Cross Tracing Service

Sunday July 30, 2006

Australian Red Cross is now accepting messages from people seeking missing family members in Lebanon, and assisted by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) will endeavour to contact those people and pass the messages on.

At the beginning of National Missing Persons Week (30 July - 5 August), Australian Red Cross is highlighting the vital work of its international tracing service.

And sadly, with so many people in the world currently affected by war, conflict or natural disaster, the need for such a service has never been greater.

It is easy to see the physical destruction and devastation caused by conflict, but recent events in the Middle East have exposed many Australians to the often hidden trauma of not knowing the fate of your loved ones.

The CEO of Australian Red Cross, Robert Tickner said today that many people who have fled their homes because of conflict or disaster will lose contact with one or more family members.

'When people flee for their lives there is no time to make detailed plans or let people know where you're going. We'd expect to see an increase in tracing needs in areas of the Middle East shortly. Once people's basic needs of safety and shelter are met they will start the search for missing relatives' Mr Tickner said.

Last year Australian Red Cross handled 2098 cases for people desperate to restore family links. During this period we were able to resolve 627 cases, allowing hundreds of families to reforge bonds and live with hope.

Mum found thanks to Australian Red Cross Message

After five years of not knowing whether he was alive or not, hearing her son's voice on the end of the phone, was too overwhelming for Adolphine.

Jackson, an 18-year-old Adelaide student, could make no sense of what his mother was saying... because of the tears.

'When I spoke to my mum that day she was crying and crying,' he says. 'She was crying because she was hoping that maybe one day I would come back - every day she was expecting I would come back and now I was on the phone.'

Thanks to the Australian Red Cross International Tracing Service, Jackson's family is able to piece together their lives and reconnect, after years of separation brought about by civil war.

'The Red Cross helped me to find them - they've helped us so much... it's great,' says Jackson.

Jackson and his mother were separated in 1993. His mother could not afford schooling after his father's death in the Congo conflict, so Jackson went to live with his uncle. They escaped more fighting and fled to a refugee camp in Uganda in 2001, but lost touch with Jackson's mother and siblings.

Jackson migrated to Australia as a refugee in 2004 with his uncle's family. In doing so, he had no knowledge of the welfare of the family he left behind.

Jackson found out about the Australian Red Cross Tracing service after a school visit from the team. A case was opened to help trace his mother. Red Cross messages found their way across war ravaged and fractured communities to his sister and mother, in a remote village in Goma, on the border of Rwanda and the Congo, then back to Jackson in Adelaide.

Jackson is now able to make phone calls, send and receive Red Cross messages and photographs to his family in the Congo.

To Jackson, this means everything. Now he is set on a career in medicine, is focused on helping to support his family and hopes to see them all again in the future.

'And I'm learning to drive!' he says with a cheeky grin.

For those who have lost contact with relatives, Red Cross is there to help.

The National Manager of International Tracing & Refugee Services at Australian Red Cross, Hang Vo, said Red Cross used its global humanitarian network to locate missing relatives, re-establish contact, bring news and reunite families.

'Australian Red Cross works with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies across the globe, to provide this unique service, free of charge to the public' Ms Vo said.

'We know there are more cases out there but not everybody, who is seeking a missing person overseas, is aware that Red Cross offers this unique service,' said Ms Vo.

If contact with a family member or a relative has been lost due to war, conflict or disaster, contact the Australian Red Cross Tracing Service in your State or Territory.

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