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Cambodia: how the Red Cross helps reunite families

The chaos of the Cambodian coup in 1970 tore Kim Ros’ family apart. Decades after they last saw each other, an aunt and her niece were successfully reunited with help from the Red Cross.

Kim Ros had been longing for decades to hear from her family again. Year after year, she cherished the memories of her niece and nephews but had no way to contact them. In the midst of the Cambodian coup of 1970, they all had to flee their village. The chaos that ruled at the time tore their family apart. Like hundreds of others who ran for their lives and lost track of their loved ones, Kim was anxiously waiting for news of them, day after day, year after year.

Kim Ros’ life changed for the better the day she met the Cambodian Red Cross (CRC) tracing team in 2007. That same day she filled in a tracing request for her niece, full of hope of one day being able to hold her in her arms again.

Kim Ros and You Sitha are joyfully reunited following
action by the Cambodian Red Cross'
restoring family links team
© Cambodian Red Cross

One day, Kim Ros' niece, You Sitha, saw a CRC announcement on television whilst at her home on the outskirts of Phnom Penh. Two days later, she rushed to the Restoring Family Links office at CRC headquarters to ask about what she had heard on TV. Having listened carefully to her story, the CRC tracing officers started to cross check their database for her aunt’s name.  
"I could hardly believe that after more than 40 years of separation, my aunt was still looking for me!”, smiled You Sitha.

Tears of joy come to Kim Ros when she remembers this incredible moment when she was finally reunited with her family. “I was almost ready to believe that we had no chance of seeing each other again in this life”, she said.

This family reunion was made possible thanks to the network of the Cambodian Red Cross Society. In Phnom Penh, 24 tracing officers are in charge of the Restoring Family Links program. They assist in reconnecting families members separated as a result of armed conflict, and help prisoners to get in touch with their families.

CRC tracing officers often receive requests from as far away as France, Hong Kong, America or even Australia. They also cooperate with the Malaysian Red Crescent and ICRC Bangkok to help detained migrants and detainees get in touch with their families. 

Restoring family links in the region
The ICRC is also very involved in Restoring Family Links and tracing family members. As part of the Red Cross/Red Crescent Movement, the organization works with National Societies in many countries to extend its services to vulnerable and overlooked populations, such as migrant workers and foreign detainees.

For example in 2012, the ICRC Delegation in Kuala Lumpur facilitated the repatriation of Cambodian workers detained by Malaysian immigration authorities. One was a fisherman caught by Malaysian authorities after the Thai fishing boat he worked on illegally entered Malaysian waters. The other was a maid, whose passport was confiscated by a recruitment agency.

Read more about the Restoring Family Links work of the ICRC here.

The story above is based on a regional newsletter by the ICRC Bangkok delegation.

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