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Salahudin Guled of Wellington was helping translate for a friend using the Red Cross Restoring Family Links service when he realised Red Cross could help him as well.
Salah came to New Zealand in 1992 under the United Nations refugee resettlement programme. His family is scattered far and wide – brothers in Canada and Germany, a sister in the United Kingdom, and a sister, brother and his mother in the United States.
But Salah hadn’t talked to his family, or even known if they were still alive, for four years, because his phone, containing all their contact details was stolen. He tried writing to the only address he could find for his brother in the United States but there was no reply. He heard after the fact that his nephew had been to New Zealand to search for him, but still there was no contact.
Finally in May 2013 he asked New Zealand Red Cross if it could help trace his family. He worried about them, especially his mother.
“My mother is nearly 80. She cries whenever I talk to her on the phone. For four years, all this time I was afraid – maybe she passed away,” he says.
Then out of the blue, two months after filing the tracing request, Salah’s phone rang. It was his brother in the United States, who had been tracked down by American Red Cross.
“He got the Red Cross email, and he rang my mother, and my sisters and brothers and gave them all my number. I had phone calls from all over the world – I was awake all night!
“The best thing was my mum. I didn’t want her to cry so I started making her laugh. We talked for half an hour. She’s OK, she wants to see me – it’s been 38 years.”
Salah’s siblings are trying to organise a family reunion soon, but in the meantime Salah says knowing his mother and siblings are all OK is fantastic.
“It was a relief. I’m very happy.”
It’s not the first time Red Cross has helped Salah.
In 1990 after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, he was stuck in the desert between Iraq and Jordan with 360 other Somali nationals, including children and pregnant women. They had no shelter and many were sick, but they were there for a month, surviving on food and water from passing truck drivers.
They couldn’t go back to Iraq and Jordanian authorities were refusing them entry. Then one day two Italians who were passing alerted the Jordanian Red Crescent, who negotiated with the government for the pregnant women to enter Jordan. The ICRC then negotiated with the government for all the refugees to enter, and Red Cross looked after them until the UNHCR could resettle them.
“Through UNHCR I was resettled to New Zealand. There were not many Africans in New Zealand at this time. Lots of people I met had only seen an African on TV.
“Red Cross saved my life when I was living in the desert. When I came to New Zealand, I knew it was a peaceful and safe country. I didn’t expect to see Red Cross here. There is no need. No one is starving. But Red Cross are here and they have helped me again.”