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A ten-year strategy to strengthen the restoration of family links

28-05-2009 Interview

War, disasters and migration split up many thousands of families. The suffering created by such situations is not always visible to others. This global problem is mostly a silent tragedy. Olivier Dubois, deputy head of the Central Tracing Agency and Protection Division of the ICRC, discusses assistance given to family members separated by such events.

Olivier Dubois, deputy head of the Central Tracing Agency and Protection Division of the ICRC.

Who are the separated family members assisted by the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement?

We assist people who have been separated from their family members or whose relatives are unaccounted for as a result of conflicts, disasters, migration or other situations requiring a humanitarian response.

Certain groups of people are particularly vulnerable and have specific needs that we seek to address. These include children who may find themselves separated from their parents as a result of armed violence, arrests, poverty or disasters. Equally vulnerable are elderly people who may not be able to fend for themselves. Detainees make up yet another group, and keeping them in touch with their families remains of utmost importance to us.

What is the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement doing to assist separated family members?

A person's well-being depends to a large extent on the ability to stay in touch with loved ones, or at least receive information about their welfare. Receiving news from a loved one or being reunited with one's family can change everything. It can end the anguish for a five-year-old and her parents who get back together or help a survivor of a natural disaster to reassure his family that he is alive.

The Movement has a worldwide Family Links Network comprising the ICRC's Central Tracing Agency, together with its tracing agencies in ICRC delegations, and the tracing services of national Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies around the world.

The role of the Family Links Network is to restore and maintain contact between family members and to clarify the fate of persons reported missing. We restore family links by offering separated family members telephone services, enabling them to exchange written messages, creating websites adapted to specific contexts, responding to individual tracing requests and reuniting families. Our work also involves collecting, managing and forwarding information on dead and missing persons.

The Movement has long-standing experience and extensive expertise in restoring family links. Through the Family Links Network, we are able to provide services across national borders in full transparency and with the consent of the authorities concerned. Therefore, as a Movement, we are in a unique position; we have a global network with the potential to assist people who are separated from their families, wherever they may be.

Why are you giving this special attention now?

Every year, hundreds of thousands of people benefit from our Restoring Family Links (RFL) services. For the network, it is essential that the same skills and approaches are adopted by the entire Movement so that RFL services are consistent and effective all over the world.

We want to improve the quality of our services to ensure that, wherever they may be, people separated from their families receive adequate attention. This also means improving our capacity to respond rapidly in emergencies.

For these reasons, the Movement has recently adopted a ten-year strategy whose aim is to reinforce the Family Links Network to better meet the needs of people cut off from their families.