International Committee of the Red Cross

Number of families separated by conflict, violence or natural disaster at five-year high, says International Committee of the Red Cross

News release 11 December 2017

Geneva – The number of families being separated by conflict, violence and natural disaster is at a five year high according to data from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). New cases of relatives contacting the organization looking to reunite with loved ones have increased by almost 90% over this period (2012-2016) with 18,000 new cases opened last year alone.

However, the ICRC warns that this is just the tip of the iceberg, with a lack of accurate data collection meaning the number of families torn apart is likely to be much higher. The warning coincides with the launch of a new Christmas campaign from the organization, which sees the distress of family separation brought to life in a powerful 1:31 minute film: Every parent's worst nightmare

Using reconstructed CCTV-style footage of parents in a series of familiar settings, from crowded shops to the zoo, the film captures the panic of mums, dads, and grandparents momentarily losing sight of their children, and their frantic efforts to find them again. This temporary separation is contrasted with the years of separation endured by thousands of families across the world along with some touching reunifications that have been facilitated by the ICRC.

The organization is calling for the public to share the video to help raise awareness and donate to support the vital work they are doing to help to ensure that families can be together during this special time, and all other days of the year, too.

"The pain of losing a child is every parent's worst nightmare, but for families affected by conflict, violence or natural disaster it is a stark reality that can last for years. Conflict is becoming increasingly protracted and the world is currently seeing the largest movement of people since the Second World War: these factors are increasing the risk of families losing contact." said Matt Clancy, ICRC spokesperson.

"Reuniting families is as important to the humanitarian mission as providing food or shelter or water. It is about restoring people's dignity and reconnecting them with the people they love. Moreover, in situations of armed conflicts, family reunification is a right under international law."

The ICRC is working to combat this issue by helping reunite family members. For over 100 years the ICRC, and its partners in the Red Cross Movement around the world, have been working to bring separated families back together again. Sometimes this can be through a letter or a phone call and sometimes through a reunion like those featured in the video.

For more information on how to support the International Committee of the Red Cross, visit:


For further information, please contact:
Matt Clancy, ICRC Geneva, +41 79 574 15 54

Notes to Editors
Women and children
- Almost 15,000 women are currently missing. This is more than double the number five years ago.
- Last year the ICRC received over 5,000 new cases of families looking for female relatives
- Over 7,000 girls are currently missing. The ICRC opened 2,000 cases last year and have observed an 80% increase in the last five years
- Over 15,000 children are currently missing. This is nearly triple the number of cases the ICRC received in 2012.
- In 2016, nearly 6,500 families came to the ICRC for help finding their child.

General activities
In the last five years the ICRC has:
-Distributed over half a million messages between families
- Facilitated over two million phone calls
- Reunited over 7,000 families
- Transferred over 7,000 dead bodies
- Issued over 20,000 travel documents
- Issued almost 100,000 attestations of detention