In situations of armed conflicts, family reunification is a right under international law. The fourth Geneva Convention clearly states that governments should take all possible steps to facilitate the reunification of separated families.
The Haitian Red Cross and ICRC tracing team
helped to reunite a girl with her family.
© ICRC/MILTCHEVA, Olga
However, when family reunification entails the admission of a person to a foreign country, the definition of the "family unit" and of the right to reunification is subject to the authority of national governments and national laws. In those situations, it is the national authorities which accept or reject a request for family reunification. Countries often only consider family reunification for first-degree family members, such as for parents and their children, and for direct siblings.
The role of the Family Links Network
The national authorities have the primary responsibility for reuniting separated families following conflict, disaster or other situations of humanitarian need. The Family Links Network may assist in family reunification if this is possible and if security conditions allow. Our priority is to help vulnerable persons who are dependent on the support of their families.
Children who have been separated from their
loved ones fly in an ICRC plane to Katanga
Province, Democratic Republic of Congo, to be
reunited with their families.
© ICRC/TSHIBUABUA, Espérance
How we assist
The International Committee of the Red Cross helps reunite family members mainly in situations related to armed conflict and other situations of violence. For refugees, it is generally the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and/or the relevant embassies that help with family reunification. They work together with National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, if necessary.
Each National Society determines its possible involvement in family reunification. In some contexts, the National Society cannot directly facilitate family reunification but can advise people where they can find help, referring them to the government authorities concerned and other organizations providing help.
Each country page on this website contains country-specific information on these issues.