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Looking for family members

The Family Links Network helps people look for family members when they have lost contact due to armed conflict or other situations of violence, natural or man-made disasters, or migration as well as in other situations of humanitarian need. We pay special attention to looking for the family members of unaccompanied or separated minors and other vulnerable persons in the first phase of an emergency.

How we look for family members

An ICRC employee in Liberia explains the role of
the tracing agency.
Tracing request

The first step and initial tool used to look for a missing person is the tracing request form. This form enables a family member (enquirer) to request a search for a relative with whom he or she has lost contact.

The tracing request should contain all available information to help search for the missing person and to maintain contact with the enquirer.

The tracing request is usually completed by a member of staff of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) or National Society during an interview with the family member of the sought person.


We first try to match the data collected on the tracing request with:

  • other data that we collect, such as lists of persons who are safe and well, injured, deprived of liberty or dead, and other tracing requests;
  • information shared by official institutions and other organizations;
  • other data published in the media or on the internet.

Whenever possible, the Family Links Network follows up personally on a tracing request by instructing staff or volunteers to carry out a search for a person in areas where this person might be living or where reliable information might be collected on his or her whereabouts. This is what we call "tracing." It involves activities such as:

  • going to the last known address of the sought person;
  • contacting relatives and neighbours who might know the sought person;
  • consulting institutions or organizations that might have information on the sought person;
  • visiting shelters and camps where the sought person might be;
  • checking hospitals, mortuary and cemetery records which might contain information on the sought person.
Submit the tracing request to the authorities

With the informed consent of the enquirer and only when it is in the best interest of the sought person, we may submit the tracing request to the authorities which may be able to provide information on the sought person.

Publish information on the sought person

With the informed consent of the enquirer and only when we believe that it is in the best interest of the sought person, we may publish or broadcast details of the sought person on television, in newspapers, on radio shows or on the internet in order to reach those who might be able to provide information.

Posters with names or pictures of the sought person can also be posted in key places and mobile teams with megaphones can make announcements seeking information on his or her whereabouts.

Online tracing

When a large-scale emergency occurs, another way in which the Family Links Network often looks for people is through the online tracing service.

A local radio station in Minova, DRC, airs the
names of missing children in hopes of reuniting

The ICRC launches an online tracing service rapidly and manages it with the help of National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. Online tracing services have been used since 1996, in connection with various conflicts and disasters, to publish lists of names and information on:

  • people who are safe and well;
  • hospital patients;
  • people who are looking for relatives;
  • sought persons or those who are dead;
  • addressees of Red Cross messages who are difficult to reach.

Individuals can access these lists directly on the webpage to look for the names of their family members. They can also publish the following details on the webpage:

  • their name and location when they are safe and well; or
  • the name of a sought relative with a request for news, together with their own name and contact details.
Hotline / call center

In a large-scale emergency, a telephone "hotline" can also be set up by the ICRC or a National Society to collect information, inform family members or refer them to the appropriate sources of information.

Important notice

If the sought person does not want to respond to a tracing request, we respect that decision. In such cases, we discuss with the individual how to proceed. We always bear in mind the need to protect sensitive personal information. The personal data of the enquirer or the sought person is only published or disclosed to other organizations or to the authorities:

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

In the immediate aftermath of a natural disaster or in the first acute phase of a conflict that has given rise to significant needs in terms of Restoring Family Links, we are often unable to accept tracing requests on a large scale. Our priority must be to help vulnerable persons (unaccompanied and separated minors, isolated elderly people, people with disabilities and others in need of protection and assistance) and their relatives. In such situations, tracing requests for other people will generally only be dealt with at a later stage.

Other than in the first emergency phase, the Family Links Network may deal with tracing requests at any time. However, National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies may sometimes apply different criteria for accepting tracing requests.

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

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