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ICRC seeks to help families of missing migrants

18-12-2013 News Release 13/221

"Families of migrants can be left in very vulnerable situations, particularly when they have no news of their loved ones for prolonged periods of time," says the International Committee of the Red Cross on the occasion of International Migrants Day.

 

"There are many reasons why they lose track of migrant family members," says Marianne Pecassou of the ICRC’s Central Tracing Agency in Geneva. "In some cases the migrant may have died, or is being detained. In other cases, he or she may become trapped in transit without the resources to go further or to return home. Often, migrants may be reluctant to go to local organizations or even to contact their families, because of their irregular status."

"The families endure the same suffering as the families of those who are missing as the result of conflict or natural disaster," adds Ms Pecassou. "There is a huge emotional strain as they do not know if the person is dead or alive. But this uncertainty can also have legal or financial consequences for those left behind. The lack of contact can even leave families exposed to exploitation by people claiming to have information about or control over the missing migrant."

To help alleviate these problems, the ICRC works with National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in the countries of origin, in countries along the migratory routes and in countries of destination. In partnership with these National Societies, it seeks to re-establish contact between migrants and their families through tracing activities, the exchange of Red Cross messages, phone calls or other means such as its familylinks website.

The ICRC, along with several European National Societies, recently launched the Family Links Poster project, which involves the publication on posters and the internet of pictures of family members who are searching for missing migrants in Europe. As an example, in late November, a Syrian father in Turkey recognized the face of his daughter on the website and they were able to resume contact. She was living as a refugee in Germany and they had lost contact while escaping the fighting near Damascus.

In Senegal, research by the ICRC and the Senegalese Red Cross revealed that the number of families with missing migrant members was much larger than first anticipated. Together  they carried out an extensive assessment to understand better the needs of these families and to propose appropriate responses. In addition to knowing what happened to their loved ones, the families identified socioeconomic, psychological and legal support as their most pressing needs. The study has been distributed to civil society and relevant authorities in Senegal, and a broader distribution outside the country is being prepared. A similar study of the needs of the families of missing migrants is being finalized in Central America (Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador) and in Mexico.

In addition to reconnecting them with their families, the ICRC and National Societies can also provide migrants with material assistance such as access to health care, first aid, orthopaedic services, drinking water, improved sanitation facilities, personal hygiene supplies and information for safer travel. In several countries, it also visits the places where migrants are detained, to monitor the conditions and their treatment.

"The ICRC focuses on helping the most vulnerable migrants and their families, regardless of their legal status," explains Ms Pecassou. "However, it does not try either to prevent or to encourage migration."

For further information, please contact:
Bernard Barrett, ICRC Geneva, tel: +41 22 730 24 04 or +41 79 251 93 06