Valentina Koleska, Red Cross: Family Reunification Helps Migrants Leave Transit Centers
The office for restoring family ties exist in the Red Cross as of when the organization was founded in 1945. But it got a more visible role with the beginning of the refugee crisis and when Macedonia became part of the route of refugees and migrants from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq ... Valentina Koleska, coordinator of this office, indicated how families that were divided are reunited - some members are in Macedonia, the other members are in the countries in Western Europe.
This family uniting is currently the only legal way that reduces the number of refugees stranded for eight months in the two transit centers in Macedonia.
T: After the signing of the EU – Turkey agreement and closing the refugee route, in the two transit centers in Macedonia remained refugees who cannot go to Serbia or return to Greece. Do you have information how many of them are separated from their family members who had already arrived in some of the European countries?
"The family members of a great majority of the migrants, who for several months are staying at the transit centers "Tabanovce" and "Vinojug", are already in the countries that were their destination. But that does not mean that the procedure for their reunification can start because the mandate of the Red Cross in this regard is to decide on the cases by assessing their vulnerability. The advance is given to the elderly, unaccompanied minors and exclusively to the members of the top family.
To launch the procedure for family reunification very important thing is the status of migrants in both countries where family members currently reside. For example, in Germany receiving a refugee status lasts for 3 to 6 months, and in certain cases a year. Therefore, this process takes long and requires great care of us and patience by the migrants. The last case for which you also reported took about seven months and luckily it ended with family reunification".
T: How many of the refugees who are still at the centers have asked for assistance from the Red Cross to reunite with their families and can you describe the procedure?
"Currently we are working on another case in the transit center "Tabanovce" and two cases in the transit center "Vinojug" are in a motion for commencement of proceedings. Migrants who want to start the procedure must first resolve their status in the country of residence, ie they must have asylum status. Since the Republic of Macedonia is not an EU member, we suggest that the proceedings should be initiated by the family members who already reside in any of the states of the EU in order to simplify the procedure.
The process is long, but our teams are making every effort so they can be successfully completed. I would not go into much detail because first and foremost in the conduct of such proceedings the principle of confidentiality is the main principle".
T: In how many case have you mediated as the Red Cross from the beginning of the refugee crisis until now?
"Teams for restoring family links of the Red Cross from the very beginning of the migrant crisis are present in the field and in most phases of the implementation of activities they responded differently. In the beginning when thousands of migrants transited across our state daily, we had a large number of separated families in the Republic of Macedonia and along the Balkan route.
Thanks to the excellent cooperation of national societies of Red Cross that are on the route, today we are talking about hundreds of reunited families or more than 700 cases of re-establishing family links registered only by the teams of the Red Cross".
T: How do you act in cases of unaccompanied or separated children from their families? Are there any children in the "Vinojug" and "Tabanovce" currently?
"Unaccompanied children are being treated as a most vulnerable category and after the registration of such cases in the transit centers in the country, the care for them is taken over by the Ministry of Labor and Social Policy. Thanks to the excellent cooperation of the Red Cross with this state institution and their recognition of the service for restoring family links as their partner in this area, so far we have worked together on several cases of unaccompanied minors. I have to say that such cases are extremely difficult, and we act upon them only if the Ministry of Labor and Social Policy requested us".
T: What is the average duration of the procedures for reunification of the families and which part of the proceedings is the most difficult one? Which country is the most common destination for the start of the new life of the reunited family?
"Each case has its own story and that is why I cannot specifically determine the period for which it will be solved. I just want to mention the deep humanitarian aspect of the activity of the Red Cross and the efforts by our teams to address each case and the joy that is shared with the families with every success. Otherwise, as for the final destination of migrants most certainly mentioned is Germany".
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