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Somalia: Putting families back in touch

20-03-2013 Interview

Asha Ismael has been working with the ICRC as head of the Somalia Family Links Programme for 12 years. Based in Nairobi, she has travelling extensively in Somalia over the years and knows well the volunteers of the Somali Red Crescent the ICRC relies on to trace family members.

What does the ICRC do to reunite families?

In close partnership with the Somali Red Crescent Society (SRCS), the ICRC has been helping restore family links in Somalia since 1977. The SRCS has 23 offices in all regions of the country working to help Somali people to re-establish and maintain ties with their relatives in Somalia and around the world.  

How does it work?

The ICRC and the SRCS offer different services to people who have lost touch in Somalia.

These services include:

  • The Red Cross / Red Crescent family message: These are open letters that allow people to send family news when they know the location of their relatives, but the traditional means of communication have been disrupted. In 2012, 19,000 Somalis exchanged family messages with relatives both abroad and in Somalia.
  • Tracing requests: This is a service that helps people who wish to locate and restore contact with their relatives but do not know their address. In 2012, 543 persons opened new tracing requests for their missing family members, while 1,370 requests are still pending from previous years. About 300 people could be traced successfully and put in touch with their families.
  • The Somali family links website includes those names broadcast by the ICRC/BBC missing person programme, and any other tracing requests. In 2012, the ICRC published the names of 10,000 missing people on the family links website, where anybody in the Somali diaspora around the world can log in and search: 
  • Travel documents: This is a document issued by the ICRC at the request of an embassy, when a person lacks documents (passport/I.D.) enabling them to travel home to their country of origin to be reunited with their families.

How do Somalis access these services in Somalia?

In Somalia, people can obtain access to tracing services through the Somali Red Crescent Society field workers and network of volunteers, or by going directly to the 23 tracing offices in the country. Somalis abroad can contact the closest ICRC or Red Cross / Red Crescent national society in their country of residence.


Asha Ismael, head of the ICRC's family links programme in Somalia 

Asha Ismael, head of the ICRC's family links programme in Somalia
© ICRC / A. Schaaf