An empty chair at the dining table, a pillow not slept on, a faded photograph by the bedside, a cupboard full of dreams not realized. This – and bittersweet memories – are all that remain when a loved one goes missing from our lives.
Many people go missing as a result of conflict, disaster and migration, causing anguish and uncertainty for their families and friends. People have the right to know what has happened to their missing relatives. Governments, armed forces and armed groups have a legal obligation to provide information and to help reunite families.
30 August is the International Day of the Disappeared. It is the day when attention is drawn to the issue of missing people worldwide and the plight of their families, who have to cope with the uncertainty of not knowing whether their loved ones are alive or dead. Some families live with this uncertainty for decades.
To mark the International Day of the Disappeared in 2015, Humanity House in The Hague – a refugee experience museum and platform for dialogue on humanitarian issues – hosted a public event and photo exhibition in the weeks preceding this important occasion. The aim was to raise awareness of the profound suffering of these families, the impact it has on their lives, and the work of international organizations such as the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement to bring relief. Red Cross staff involved in tracing work shared their experiences with participants, along with speakers from the International Organization for Migration in the Netherlands and the Dutch Maritime Police’s North Sea Missing Persons Bureau.
Bangladesh. Savar, industrial suburb on the outskirts of Dhaka, April 28, 2013.
© Onchita Shadman, ICRC
Abdur Rahman shows the picture of his missing daughter Aliya following the collapse of an eight-storey building in which more than 3000 people were working in factories and shops. The bereaved father had travelled all the way from the south-western district of Chuadanga in search of his missing child.
Sri Lanka. Pandirupu, July 2004.
© Jon Björgvinsson, ICRC
An ICRC delegate visits a family of which two sons are missing.
Indonesia. Banda Aceh, January 1, 2005.
© Thierry Gassmann, ICRC
A tracing office for missing persons as a result of the 2004 Tsunami, ran by the Indonesian Red Cross, in close collaboration with the ICRC. Together they set up a system for tracing and reuniting those who lost contact with their families.
Iraq. Bagdad, May 5, 2003.
© Thierry Gassmann, ICRC
In front of the ICRC delegation, people come to read the lists of persons registered by the ICRC, in
the hope of finding the name of a relative from whom they have no news.
Iraq. Basra. April 27, 2011.
© Ed Ou, ICRC
A worker of the Al-Zubai centre tends to graves of recovered but unidentified casualties of war.
Colombia. Bogota, February 8, 2010.
© Christoph von Toggenburg, ICRC
The Instituto Nacional de Medicina Legal y Ciencias Forenses is responsible for the forensic identification of human remains. The ICRC actively support these efforts.
Peru. Ayachucho region, Huamanga, August 2009.
© José Atauje, ICRC
After the bodies of the missing persons have been restituted, the families visit "La Hoyada", a secret military crematorium.
Peru. Ayacucho region, Putis, August 2009.
© José Atuaje, ICRC
The remains of 92 people who disappeared in 1984, were found in a mass grave in Putis. Families participate in the burial ceremony of their relatives. Of the 92 bodies exhumed, only 28 could be identified.
Azerbaijan. Nagorno-Karabakh, Talish village. Marusya holds a portrait of her missing sister. She has three relatives who went missing during the war in the early 1990s: her mother, her sister and her brother.
© Marko Kokic, ICRC
Marusya and other villagers were detained during the war in the early 1990s. After her release, she found her home had been destroyed and no sign of her mother, brother and sister. Marysya shows a picture of her missing sister.
Azerbaijan. Nagorno- Karabakh, Stepanakert/Khankendi. Vera Grigoryan is the head of "Union of Relatives of Missing Warriors", an organization of families of missing which she helped to establish in 1998. She shows a wall of missing servicemen from the war in the early 1990s.
© Marko Kokic, ICRC
Vera is the head of "Union of Relatives of Missing Warriors" which she helped establish in 1998. She was compelled to start this organization because her son, who was a soldier, also went missing. She shows a wall of missing servicemen from the war in the early 1990s.
Kosovo. Pristina, May 2008.
© Olav Saltbones, Norwegian Red Cross
Pictures of missing persons hanging on a fence outside a public building. Fresh flowers are attached
to many of the portraits of people that have been missing since the war that ended in 1999.
Bosnia and Herzegovina. Srebrenica, Potočari cemetry, February 2002.
© Nick Danzinger, ICRC
Dzidza regularly visits the site in Potočari, near Srebrenica, where a memorial has been built to more than eight thousand people who were killed and where one of her brothers is buried. Her husband and her two son have gone missing.
Read Dzidza's full story here, as told by award-winning British photojournalist Nick Danziger in 2008.
Italy. Catania, Sicily, June 3, 2015.
© Merlijn Stoffels, Netherlands Red Cross
This 22-year-old Nigerian man was afraid that he would not survive the dangerous boat crossing to Europe. His life was no longer safe in Nigeria because of the conflict. When his brother was murdered right in front of his eyes, he had no choice but to flee. Right before he left to Sicily, he found out that his sister and younger brother had also been murdered. It is likely that he has no family left.
Niger. Agadez. March 31, 2014.
© François Therrien, ICRC
A volunteer of Red Cross Society of Niger helps a migrant contact his family via a free telephone line. In 2013, migrants made over 3,200 calls to their loved ones.
South Sudan. Leer, March 5, 2015.
© Pawel Krzysiek, ICRC
In search of their loved ones, a group of people in Leer review a book containing photos of South Sudanese children located in neighboring countries.