“When countries are broken up so too are families. Tragically, as people flee for safety, many parents and siblings are separated never to meet again. But sometimes the story ends differently” Irish Red Cross Restoring Family Links Officer Jen Wilson
It was the first day back in the office after the Christmas break for my Restoring Family Links colleague Rachel and me. It started like any other morning, checking e-mails and correspondence. We certainly weren’t expecting what happened next.
We received a very curious letter which appeared to be written in Russian. Our colleagues from another department was versed in the language and offered to translate. The letter told the story of an only child who had been separated from her parents 15 years ago.
Three years after the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991, and the declaration of an independent Chechen republic, war broke out between Russia and Chechnya. It then raged on-and-off for the rest of the decade. The letter told the story of how at the end of 1999, as the Russian Federation army shelled Chechnya, the child and her Grandmother gained safe passage out of the country and made their way to Russia. It said the Grandmother had later died, leaving the child in the care of a former neighbour who brought her to Armenia and raised her to adulthood.
Recognising the story from our case files, it quickly became apparent to us that the sender of the letter was the daughter of one of our clients who had initiated a search for her back in 2006. He had come to Ireland as an asylum seeker after fleeing conflict in his home country. This type of separation is not uncommon and is something we see very often in our work.
Very much excited, but in disbelief, we quickly pulled the file from the cabinet to crosscheck the details. The file confirmed we were right – and we would be able to reunite a family that had not heard from each other for 15 years.
We phoned our client and asked if he could come to the office to speak to us about his tracing case. He promised to come in that afternoon when he finished work. When he arrived, we sat with him and explained that we had received a letter written in Russian and when we had it translated, we discovered that it was from his long-lost daughter.
We handed him the letter to read and at first he seemed unmoved not quite understanding what was happening. After a few moments when it finally dawned on him that his only child was the author, the tears understandably began to flow.
What followed was a mix of emotions and the realisation that she might now be married; or that perhaps he was a grandfather and finally that he had to now go home and tell his wife, her mother, the joyous news. The letter never left his hands and he held it tightly against his chest.
It was the perfect end to the first day back in the office and a great start to the New Year for us. But for our client, it meant a lot more than that. Fifteen years of heartache and uncertainty coming to an end thanks to the Restoring Family Links service.
Our client has since made with his daughter and speaks to her almost every day. She is planning on moving to Ireland so they can make up for lost time.
For more about Restoring Family Links see the Irish Red Cross website