Armed conflicts, natural disasters and migration often disrupt means of communication and split up countless families. People suffer tremendously when they do not have contact with, or news from, their loved ones. Their ability to cope with an emergency is also greatly weakened. That is why restoring and maintaining contact between family members is a key activity of the Family Links Network of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement.
The tools we use vary according to the situation and the particular needs
A woman in Port-au-Prince uses an ICRC satellite
phone in order to contact family members.
© ICRC/KOKIC, Marko
Telephones are often the most direct and rapid means of restoring contact and reassuring families. We often provide people from the areas affected by conflicts or disasters with free telephone calls in the emergency phase of a crisis so that they can make contact with their relatives. In some circumstances we also organize video telephone calls, for instance between detainees and their families.
Red Cross Messages
Red Cross messages (RCM) are open letters with one part on which the sender can write a message and one part on which the relative can reply. Each part contains the name and full address of the sender and the addressee. The message may only contain family or private news. In some situations, for example in places of detention, Red Cross messages are read by the authorities before delivery. A picture or official documents can usually be enclosed with a Red Cross message.
In most contexts, the messages are collected and delivered personally by National Society volunteers or staff of the International Committee of the Red Cross. Depending on local conditions and the distance involved, this may take some time. Red Cross messages can also be delivered electronically.
Sometimes family messages can also be collected and delivered orally and by telephone.
Please note that Red Cross messages can often only be accepted when a necessary minimum of information on the possible location of the addressee is known. If this is not the case, a tracing request needs to be opened.
A father looking for his son who went to Russia fills
out a tracing request at the Armenian Red Cross.
© ICRC/HEGER, Boris
"Anxious for news" and "Safe and well/I am alive" messages
In some specific situations we also use pre-printed open Red Cross messages which contain only the standard text "Anxious for news" or "Safe and well / I am alive." "Anxious for news" messages can be used by relatives outside or inside an area affected by an emergency. "Safe and well / I am alive" messages can be used by people from affected areas who wish to reassure their families. These messages are easily completed and can be useful in delicate situations with security constraints. Because of their small size, they can also be included in lists, placed on the online tracing part of this website, or published in different media.
If an addressee does not want to reply to a Red Cross or “Anxious for news” message, we respect that decision. In such cases, we discuss with the individual how to proceed.
Each country page on this website contains country-specific information on these issues.