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How we work

The Family Links Network of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement (the Movement) helps people who have become separated from or are without news of family members.

ICRC's tracing tents with mobile phones
available are set up for refugees to contact
their family from the Jordanian Red
Crescent camp.
© Federation/THORKELSSON, Thorkell
Restoring Family Links

Restoring family links is a broad range of activities aimed to prevent separation and disappearance, restore and maintain contact between family members, reunite families, and clarify what happened to persons reported missing.

The most common situations where the Family Links Network takes action are when loss of contact is due to:

  • armed conflict or other situations of violence;
  • natural or man-made disaster;
  • migration.

It also works in other situations of humanitarian need.

Depending on the context, Restoring Family Links involves some of the following activities:

  • looking for individuals on behalf of their family;
  • restoring and maintaining family contact;
  • registering and keeping track of individuals so as to prevent their disappearance and to inform their families of their whereabouts;
  • reuniting and repatriating family members;
  • helping the authorities clarify what has happened to persons unaccounted for;
  • collecting, managing and forwarding information on the dead.

Each country page on this website contains country-specific information on these issues.

How we work

In a context of armed conflict or other situations of violence, the ICRC generally already has an office in the country concerned or will rapidly seek to establish a delegation there. The ICRC will take action to restore family links to the extent possible, working in cooperation with the National Society of the country in question.

When a natural or man-made disaster strikes or in other situations of need, the National Society of the country concerned will act either on its own or, if necessary, with the support of the ICRC.

When families are separated across international borders, the National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies of several countries, often together with the ICRC, work together to help restore family links.

A unique strength of the Family Links Network is its ability to work with staff and volunteers in the local area all around the world, respecting culture, religion, society, language and the particular needs of the people requiring help.

We always bear in mind the need to protect sensitive personal information. Any information about the person who is looking for his/her relative (the enquirer) or the sought person is only published or shared with other organizations or the authorities:

  • with the consent of the enquirer;
  • for a clear humanitarian purpose; and
  • when it is in the best interest of the sought person.

If the sought person does not want to respond to a Tracing Request, we respect that decision.

Important notice: We ask people who are seeking help to restore family links to contact the National Society or the ICRC delegation in the country where they live. The National Society or the ICRC will then contact other members of the Family Links Network in other countries if necessary. This allows us to provide personal follow-up for the tracing request.

Each country page on this website contains country-specific information on these issues.

A child separated from her family is
photographed in Isle, Burundi, to help find
some of her relatives.
© CICR/LAMON, Bertrand
Our beneficiaries

The criteria for becoming a beneficiary of our activities may vary depending on the individual situation of the person looking for help, the particular circumstances of separation, the situation within a country and the capacity and regulations of a National Society.

In general, our beneficiaries must be family members. However, the term "family" can be understood in a broad sense, to include all those who consider themselves and are considered by each other to be part of the family.

We examine each case individually and exceptions to general rules may be made. The particular humanitarian need of individuals and their vulnerabilities are always of vital importance when considering the possibility of taking action.

We pay special attention to the needs of vulnerable people such as:

  • unaccompanied and separated minors;
  • elderly people living alone, people who are chronically ill and people with disabilities who require support;
  • detained people;
  • single women at risk of sexual or other abuse;
  • foreigners who lack diplomatic representation or the means to access it;
  • other groups who are vulnerable in the specific context.

Each country page on this website contains country-specific information on these issues.

In 2015, the ICRC together with the Red Cross and Red Crescent National Societies :

  • distributed nearly 106,108 Red Cross messages enabling family members to exchange news;
  • facilitated 479,358 phone calls between relatives, helping them to get in touch with each other or to remain in contact;
  • reunited more than 968 children with their families.

Over 1 041 893 people contacted ICRC offices around the world for advice or services related to protection and family links.

Are you looking for a family member?