Migrants and refugees in Europe: Restoring family links

European Red Cross Societies are working with the ICRC to find missing family members, restore contact and reunite families.
As hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants pass through several European countries, often very rapidly, the Red Cross Societies have deployed staff and volunteers to border crossings, railway stations and other locations where migrants and refugees pass through or are accommodated.

The boundaries and names shown, and the designations used on this map do not imply official endorsement or acceptance by the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Content

  • Help on arrival

    Red Cross Society staff conduct rescue operations at sea and help people when they come ashore.

    A Hellenic Red Cross volunteer carries a child who has just arrived on one of the Greek islands from Turkey.

    A Hellenic Red Cross volunteer carries a child who has just arrived on one of the Greek islands from Turkey.  

    © Hellenic Red Cross 

     

    The leaders of Red Cross Societies from the European Union have sounded the alarm over the number of people dying at sea while trying to reach a safe haven. 

    Red Cross Society staff are involved in rescue operations at sea and are helping migrants when they come ashore.

     

  • Looking after the dead

    When people die along the migration route, their bodies must be handled respectfully and with dignity.

    Tomb of an unknown migrant. Mytilini Cemetry, Lesvos, Greece.

    Tomb of an unknown migrant. Mytilini Cemetry, Lesvos, Greece. 

    CC BY-NC-ND / ICRC 

     

    When people die along the migration route, their bodies must be handled respectfully and with dignity. The bodies of unknown individuals must be found, recovered and identified.

    The number of people losing their lives while attempting to reach Europe continues to rise. The ICRC is pushing for better management of dead bodies and more resources. 

     

  • Free WiFi

    Red Cross Societies make sure migrants can use their own telephones, by providing charging points or inexpensive SIM cards.

    Red Cross Societies make sure migrants can use their own telephones, by providing charging points or inexpensive SIM cards.

    Lesvos, Greece. Hellenic Red Cross staff help a migrant connect to the Internet at a charging point/wifi hotspot.

    © Hellenic Red Cross.

     

    Red Cross Societies make sure migrants can use their own telephones, by providing charging points or inexpensive SIM cards.

    Many migrants have modern communication devices, so Red Cross Societies help set up free WiFi access points, enabling migrants to maintain contact with their families via Internet.

  • Keeping families together

    Red Cross personnel give advice to migrants on how to stick together, and are there to help if they get separated.

    Opatovac, Croatia. A Croatian Red Cross worker hands dry socks to a migrant. © Belgian Red Cross  / Sofie Van Belleghem

    Opatovac, Croatia. A Croatian Red Cross worker hands dry socks to a migrant.
    © Belgian Red Cross / Sofie Van Belleghem

     

    Families are most at risk of getting separated when they are being registered, when they board trains or buses or when somebody in the family needs to get medical treatment while the rest of the family has to move on.

    At these points along the journey, agencies often try to give preferential treatment to vulnerable groups such as women and children. This is done with the best of intentions, but the result may be that these vulnerable travellers get separated from their families or the group they are travelling with.

    Red Cross staff and volunteers:

    • maintain constant contact with everyone who works with migrants;
    • provide practical advice to migrants and distribute a leaflet in several languages on how not to lose one another and who to approach if they do get separated;
    • maintain constant contact with the police, social services, authorities and other Red Cross points along the route, in order to locate people who have become separated from their family or group and bring them together again.

     

  • Free phone calls

    Red Cross Societies provide people with free telephone calls so they can contact their relatives.

    Gevgelija, former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Refugees call their families and use free wifi at a restoring family links facility set up by the Macedonian Red Cross.  

    Gevgelija, former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Refugees call their families and use free wifi
    at a restoring family links facility set up by the Macedonian Red Cross.

    © Belgian Red Cross / Sofie Van Belleghem

      

     

    Telephones are often the most direct and rapid means of restoring contact and reassuring families.

    Red Cross Societies provide people with free telephone calls at numerous points along the route and in reception and transit centres so they can call their relatives.

     

    France / Italy: Red Cross restores family links for migrants

  • Providing psychosocial support

    Red Cross Societies offer psychosocial support and educational activities in migrant centres and mobile units

    Opatovac, Croatia. Croatian Red Cross staff await refugees, ready to provide psychosocial support.  

    Opatovac, Croatia. Red Cross staff await refugees. The Croatian Red Cross is providing psychosocial support.
    © Belgian Red Cross / Sofie Van Belleghem

     

    Many refugees have fled war and violence and have made the perilous journey across the Mediterranean or the Aegean. Some have lost family members along the way. They may have seen family drown before their eyes. All this can have a serious impact on their mental health and psychosocial well-being.

    Red Cross Societies offer psychosocial support and educational activities in migrant centres and mobile units along the route.

     

    Migration in South-East Europe – an unprecedented challenge

  • Tracing missing relatives

    Migrants can ask a Red Cross Society to look for a missing relative or use online tracing tools such as Trace the Face.

    A Red Cross worker explains Trace the Face before taking a woman’s photo for publication on Trace the Face.

    A Red Cross worker explains Trace the Face before taking a woman’s photo for publication on the site.

    CC BY-NC-ND / ICRC

     

    • Migrants can ask the local Red Cross Society to look for a missing family member. The information is treated in accordance with the highest data protection standards, and is only used to search for the missing person.
    • They can use online tracing tools such as Trace the Face. This is a site on which they can have their own photo published, in the hope that relatives will see it. Posters with Trace the Face photos are also on display at Red Cross RFL points along the migration route.
    • The ICRC has created a confidential data-sharing platform on which Red Cross Societies can share photos of separated children and parents who are looking for their children.

     

  • Visiting detainees

    The ICRC and Red Cross Societies enable detained migrants get back in touch with their relatives.

    The ICRC and Red Cross Societies help detained migrants get back in touch with their relatives and arrange family visits.

    The ICRC and Red Cross Societies help detained migrants get back in touch with their relatives.

    CC BY-NC-ND / ICRC

     

    To add to all the hardships they have faced, some migrants find themselves in custody for entering or remaining in a country irregularly.

    The ICRC and Red Cross Societies help them by enabling them to get back in touch with their relatives.

     

    Detention not a solution for migrants

  • Helping children

    The Red Cross searches for families of children who become separated from them along the way.

    Oxy Transit Point, Molyvos, Lesvos, Greece. A Hellenic Red Cross worker specialized in restoring family links looks after a young migrant. 

    Oxy Transit Point, Molyvos, Lesvos, Greece.
    A Hellenic Red Cross worker specialized in restoring family links looks after a young migrant.
     

    © Hellenic Red Cross / Ioanna Gatsou 

     

    Children regularly become separated from their families along the way. While social services and other organizations look after them, the Red Cross searches for their families. 

    The Red Cross Societies make every effort to reunite separated children with their families.

     

    This involves:

      • identifying these children among the mass of people on the move;
      • registering and interviewing them;
      • tracing their parents or other relatives;
      • reuniting them with their families if possible.

     

    Greece: A Syrian father is reunited with his five-year-old son

  • Reuniting families

    When families get split up, Red Cross Societies help reunite them.

    Salzburg, Austria. A family reunited thanks to the Austrian Red Cross tracing office at Salzburg's main railway station. © Austrian Red Cross

    Salzburg, Austria. A family reunited thanks to the Austrian Red Cross tracing office at Salzburg's main railway station.

    © Austrian Red Cross

     

    In the turmoil, panic, terror and hardship that often accompany migration, families can be separated in minutes, sometimes leading to long years of anguish and uncertainty about the fate of children, spouses or parents.

     

    Red Cross Societies help reunite migrants with their families. This may include giving legal advice, helping people through what are often very lengthy and technical processes, or covering the costs for family members to come to the host country.