Afghan woman finds missing husband through Canadian Red Cross Tracing Service

When Naderah Shirzad arrived in Canada as a refugee in July 2002 she came as a widow with six children ranging in age from 9 to 19. This all changed in November 2003 when the Restoring Family Links Program of the Canadian Red Cross received a tracing request for Naderah from the Netherlands Red Cross.

“I couldn’t believe the news when I received confirmation that my husband was trying to find me,” says Naderah.

Naderah’s husband, Shah Mohammed, was alive and living in the Netherlands. Her husband had learned of the Red Cross Tracing Service through staff of the Netherlands Red Cross.

In 1997 Shah Mohammed disappeared on his way to work as a result of the conflict in Afghanistan. Naderah, fearing for her own safety, fled Kabul by foot with her children to Pakistan, and then to a refugee camp in Iran.

“Women and children are so deeply affected by war,” says Naderah “They are often psychologically damaged and can look like the walking dead. They frequently find themselves without their husbands to provide support.”

Meanwhile, Mohammed had escaped to Pakistan. He attempted to contact his family, but could only learn that they had left Kabul. He was given the opportunity to be resettled as a refugee in The Netherlands, but never gave up his search for Naderah and their children.

After many inquiries, he learned from a friend that his family might have gone to a refugee camp in Iran and possibly resettled in Canada. He approached the Netherlands Red Cross who in turn contacted the Canadian Red Cross.

The Canadian Red Cross then collaborated with the Canadian office of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) to trace Naderah and her children to their new home in Edmonton.

“During the difficult time when we didn’t know about my husband’s fate, every day seemed like a year,” adds Naderah. It also took a heavy toll on her children, robbing them on their innocence and childhood. “War wilts the children like dried flowers,” explains Naderah.

Red Cross staff from Edmonton visited Naderah’s home to bring her a hand written message from her husband. “It’s only when I received his contact information from the Red Cross did I really believe it was true that he really was alive,” says Naderah. “My family and I spent four days straight crying with joy about this happy news.”

“The Red Cross was so important in helping bring back to life someone that I had presumed was dead,” adds Naderah. “It helped a family of fatherless children have a father again. It really is there for the ill and poor people affected by war. Until the last day of my life, I will remember what the Red Cross has done for me.”

Although this is a happy story, the family still faces obstacles in being physically reunited. As Naderah had indicated she was a widow on her refugee claim, she may face some legal challenges in having her husband join her in Canada.