14 Apr

Lost and found: How the Red Cross helps to find missing family members


Disasters and armed conflicts tear people apart. When fleeing their own country, whole families get separated and lose contacts with each other. Nowadays, thousands of parents, spouses, siblings and children around the world are currently looking for their relatives.  They don’t know whether their loved ones are dead or alive. Not only that a family suffers emotionally, it is also their right to know what happened to their missing relatives.

Searching for missing persons gets more urgent with the current migration situation. Every week, thousands of migrants try to reach Europe and many die or disappear on their journey. While taking different roads to enter Europe without documents, many risk getting arrested or lost on their way.

According the Tiina Salmio, the family reunification officer at the Finnish Red Cross, the numbers of missing persons are more alarming with the increasing movement of people throughout Europe.

— At the moment, the numbers are higher because people escape the conflict areas. In Finland, asylum seekers and refugees register cases of missing family members mainly of Syrian, Afghan, Iraqi or Somali origin, Tiina describes.

In 2015, the Finnish Red Cross registered 367 inquiries for tracing missing persons. However, only during the first few months in 2016, there are already some 150 cases registered.

Restoring family links can take years

Searching for missing family members is a long term process which may take several of months or even years. The uncertainty about the missing person’s fate and not knowing what has happened causes feelings of despair and anxiety.

There are many difficulties complicating the search. First of all, it might take some time for people to even find out about the Red Cross service and register their inquiry.

— We try to raise awareness about this tracing service among reception centres and immigration offices so that people know where to look for their lost family members, Tiina explains.

To overcome this challenge the Red Cross Societes have also deployed staff and volunteers to border crossings, railway stations and other locations where migrants and refugees pass through.

Most problematic is the search conducted in crisis zones where the security risks are high. For example, when searching for a missing person in Iraq or Syria, the unsafe environment and security risks might make it impossible to reach the areas where a person could be traced.

Unique photo-based tracing

The Finnish Red Cross is among the 23 national societies in Europe which assists in tracing the missing persons by photo-based tracing. The website is called Trace the Face, where people can publish photos of themselves, is a unique tracing tool which has made the search easier.

—  When people are looking for a lost family member, they should contact the nearest Red Cross office and fill in a form with information about the missing person and his last possible location, Tiina encourages.

“The Red Cross does not make the travel arrangements, but makes sure that the family gets in touch.”

Pictures of people looking for their loved ones are put on the Trace the Face website as well as on the posters which are updated every month and distributed to all Red Cross offices in Europe. This way, one increases the chance that a missing person, who might be also looking for its relatives, will recognize the family member from the picture.

Assisting families to stay in contact

In addition to the picture-based search, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) initiates a search for the person in cooperation with national societies around the world and the Family Links Network.

— The workers of the national Red Cross or Red Crescent societies distribute the posters with pictures around villages and talk to the locals while looking for the missing. If a person is found, we ask for his permission to provide his contact to the person who is looking for him or her, Tiina says.

The Red Cross does not make the travel arrangements, but makes sure that the family gets in touch. The Red Cross then facilitates the exchange of messages and phone calls between the family members for example by offering free phone calls and internet connection. Although still separated by distance, knowing what happened to their loved ones often brings families relief.

Text: Jana Sassakova

4 thoughts on “Lost and found: How the Red Cross helps to find missing family members

  1. I have a 1st cousin Gregory Gaylord Lassiter that has been missing for awhile and I wanted to know if the Red Cross can help me. He was in the army and had a dishonorable discharge. He lived in the Baltimore, Md area his dob is 03/23/51. He had a struggle with drugs. The family would like to know if he’s living or dead I pray his alive.

  2. I am looking for my cousin Danilo Stajic born in Nevesinje Yugoslavia 1942Last seen in Austria 1967 Anyoane know anything about him contact me on my e-maill

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