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Reconnecting migrant families in Europe


Throughout 2015, European National Societies faced the challenge of responding to the needs of large numbers of families separated as a result of migration. As migrants quickly transited from one country to the next, National Societies deployed staff and volunteers to border crossings, railway stations and other locations where migrants passed through or were accommodated.

This year, as a result of border closures, new routes began to emerge, requiring European National societies, with the support of the ICRC, to adapt and develop their Restoring Family Links (RFL) services and strengthen its network in response to the challenges they face in reconnecting migrant families.

Keeping families together
European National Societies and the ICRC help to prevent families from getting separated. They do so by maintaining regular contact with the authorities, social services, and other National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies along the migratory routes in order to locate people who have become separated from their family and help reconnect them.

Unaccompanied children remain particularly vulnerable and one of the main humanitarian concerns in many European countries. Red Cross and Red Crescent staff and volunteers interview children when approached and help them look for their families.

Reuniting families
The closure of borders and strict entry rules means that some family members get separated and left behind in another country. Others leave their families behind in their home countries as they embark on their journey to a safer or better life in Europe.
European National Societies help bring families together again. They advocate for faster family reunification procedures particularly for vulnerable groups such as unaccompanied children.

Where deemed appropriate, National Societies may also offer RFL services to victims of trafficking who have been separated from their families.
Restoring and Maintaining Contact
Once migrants arrive in Europe, one of their first concerns is let their families know they are safe. European national societies provide them with free phone calls, internet and SIM cards as well as places to charge their mobile phones. It also offers a way for families to keep in contact when they get separated along the migratory routes in Europe.

A migrant's face lights up as he hears the voice of a family member. © French Red Cross

Looking for missing family members
Relying on our worldwide network of national societies and ICRC delegations, European national societies help families to look for their missing relatives in Europe and beyond. Families looking for their relatives can approach any Red Cross society in Europe and open what is known as a ‘tracing request’. They can also look for their loved ones in an active way by publishing their photo on our website with the hope that their relatives will see it. Posters with Trace the Face photos are also on display at various locations throughout Europe.
Helping detained migrants
A number of countries are increasingly resorting to detaining migrants for reasons of irregular entry or stay. The ICRC works in immigration detention on its own or in collaboration with National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in several countries along migration routes. National Societies also work independently in immigration detention, mainly but not exclusively providing Restoring Family Links services and direct assistance – where these services are needed.

The ICRC visits detained migrants to ensure that they are treated humanely, held in dignified conditions and afforded due process of law. The ICRC also evaluate whether they can maintain contact with their families if they wish to do so. In addition, we make sure that the authorities fulfil their obligations under international law, in particular abiding by the principle of non-refoulement.

The ICRC also reminds States that detention should be a measure of last resort. If measures of constraint are needed, alternatives to detention should always be considered first, especially for vulnerable groups.

Looking after migrants’ mental health
Some migrants are not able to be reunited with their loved ones and are left stranded in another country, facing an uncertain future, as do many migrants held in detention facilities. Others have to deal with the trauma of what they experienced back home or on their journey to Europe, including losing family members. 
              Krnjaca, Serbia. Drawings on the wall of a centre for asylum-seekers
   © Serbian Red Cross
Many European Red Cross Societies offer psycho-social support and educational activities to migrants.

Ensuring the dead are treated with dignity

When migrants die, the ICRC, on its own or together with a Red Cross society, support the responsible authorities to ensure that their bodies are handled in a proper and dignified manner.  Where possible, it works with the authorities to identify them, notify families of their death and ensure that they are given a proper burial. 

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