Day of the Disappeared: Restoring Family Links

By Anna-Marie Robertson

Red Cross worker helping re-connect familiesEvery day, thousands of people are looking for family members who are missing. On August 30, humanitarians around the world are recognizing the Day of the Disappeared, which acknowledges the need to identify and document the fate of people who are missing and to provide support for family members left behind.
This year, the Canadian Red Cross Restoring Family Links program is highlighting the Trace the Face initiative to help people find missing family members who have migrated to Europe. Numerous Red Cross Societies throughout Europe are working together to share photos of people looking to find missing relatives. The Canadian Red Cross joined the Trace the Face initiative in June 2017. With Trace the Face you can check if your family is looking for you or you can publish your photo to help family reach out to you. The Canadian Red Cross has several Trace the Face cases and is supporting these cases through this initiative, in addition to our regular Restoring Family Links programming.

The Restoring Family Links program looks to find family members, restore contact, and reunite families around the world. Red Cross personnel work hard each day to restore family links and help find answers for those who are missing. The Red Cross Red Crescent Movement looks to address issues of missing people and those who disappeared during armed conflict or other situations of violence, in a natural or man-made disaster, and as a result of migration.
Images of people who are missingAs part of the Red Cross support to connect family members after separation, the Restoring Family Links program helps people in Canada re-establish contact with immediate family members. Canadian Red Cross teams provide services including exchanging Red Cross messages; tracing and reconnecting family members separated due to war, internal conflict, disaster or migration; helping to confirm detention when a person has been visited by the International Committee of the Red Cross overseas; providing health and welfare reports; and providing referrals to other agencies that may provide additional support.
Our stories include connecting Canadians with families that were separated for years, including those impacted by the Second World War. In 2007, in collaboration with the Polish Red Cross, we helped reunite a mother and son after they had been apart for more than 62 years – we were grateful to be a part of their joyous reunion in Toronto.
More recently, the Restoring Family Links program witnessed the reunion of a family, and childhood sweethearts, on a journey through Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Quebec to Uganda. Jean-Damascène Hakizimana shared his story with us here.
The Canadian Red Cross is also currently providing family reunification services as part of support to people impacted by the wildfires in British Columbia as well as those currently seeking asylum across the country.
Poster for the Restoring Family Links programThe strength of the Restoring Family Links program comes from the fundamental principle of universality. The sharing of messages and the search for missing or separated families is done through the collaboration of the International Committee of the Red Cross and more than 190 National Societies.

In recognition of the International Day of the Disappeared, the International Committee of the Red Cross is hosting a livestream conference on the importance of remembering, especially regarding a collective responsibility towards missing people and their families. The event, Gone but not forgotten: migrants, mothers and the missing, will be livestreamed here.

If you have had an experience with our Restoring Family Links program, we would love to hear your story. Please send us a message at

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