Friday, January 23, 2015

How the Red Cross Focuses on Human Needs: Humanitarian Services and Migration

By Cassie Schoon, Volunteer Writer

I thought about treading lightly with this topic. There are few more politically divisive issues than that of migration. But this blog -- and the upcoming Red Cross Lunch and Learn that it previews -- isn’t about politics. It’s not about the Red Cross taking a side or promoting immigration policy, because the Red Cross is a neutral organization; neutrality is written into the guiding values of the International Red Cross/Red Crescent Movement.

What matters to the Red Cross across the globe – and to Red Cross workers like Jon Dillon, a caseworker and outreach associate with the Red Cross Restoring Family Links program – is alleviating human suffering. For Dillon, who will host a special edition of the International Services Lunch and Learn event on Wednesday, helping migrants reconnect with displaced loved ones is a mission that transcends politics.

“First and foremost, we are a humanitarian organization that is there to serve the basic needs of human beings,” Dillon said. “I have a coworker who says it perfectly: there are five needs that people have in times of crisis, and those are food, water, shelter, access to medical services and family. And especially when you have family, access to the other four becomes a lot easier.”

Over the past several years, the International Committee of the Red Cross (the ICRC) has begun to look more closely at the humanitarian needs of migrant populations on a global scale. More recently, the American Red Cross began to examine the needs of migrants within the United States. After research among migrant populations in various American border cities exposed a specific need for RFL services, the Red Cross began to work closely with organizations with established relationships among migrant populations to address these family contact needs.

During the influx of unaccompanied children into the U.S. last summer, the Red Cross assisted detained minor immigrants in contacting family members both within the United States and in their home countries. The Red Cross provides these services to migrants as part of the organization’s commitment to universal humanitarian principles. For his part, Dillon sees the work of reconnecting migrants with displaced family members as the fulfillment of an essential humanitarian need.

“Having a loss of contact creates a lot of uncertainty, both for migrants and the family they’re trying to contact,” Dillon said.

Dillon said that providing these services also helps the Red Cross to build trust within a community that may need help from the Red Cross in the future.

“By providing these calls, we’ll also build more trust with the migrant communities, so when they are in U.S. communities and have other family contact needs, say, if a disaster happens in Mexico or Chile and they can’t get a hold of family, they will feel comfortable coming to the Red Cross for those services.”

Dillon said he hopes his presentation will help people understand the universality of the human need among all populations for family contact and security.

“Migrants are human beings, just like everyone else, and they have those basic needs,” Dillon said. “Helping migrants is very much a part of the mission of the Red Cross.”

The Lunch & Learn lecture will be presented Wednesday, Jan. 28, from noon to 1 p.m. at the American Red Cross, 444 Sherman St. RSVPs are requested by noon Tuesday, Jan. 27, by visiting Webinar options are also available for remote audiences. For more information, contact Tim Bothe .

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