Hundreds of refugees and migrants have used the German Red Cross Tracing Service to find missing relatives
Hundreds of refugees and migrants have used the German Red Cross Tracing Service to find missing relatives

Thousands of refugees and migrants in Germany are seeking missing relatives. The German Red Cross says 2,291 new requests were received by its missing persons search service last year. The main countries of origin of those searching were Afghanistan, Syria, Somalia and Eritrea.

The number of missing persons is 500 less than the year before last, but it remains “very high” given that the number of migrants arriving in Germany has fallen sharply, according to the GRC's president, Gerda Hasselfeldt.

Last hope

The Red Cross says most refugees try to look for missing relatives themselves and only turn to the Tracing Service if they don't succeed. The rate of inquiries remains high because many of them are about people who went missing some time ago.

"For many people who have been separated from their loved ones as a result of armed conflict, disaster or migration and flight, the GRC Tracing Service is the last hope," according to Hasselfeldt.

The service also continues to receive a large number of inquires about people missing since the Second World War. "This topic still affects many families in Germany," Hasselfeldt said.

There are about 1.3 million unanswered inquiries about missing persons – both refugees and displaced people, and those missing since WWII. About four out of ten searches are successful as in being able to discover what has happened to the missing person, the GRC says.

Is it possible to remain anonymous while searching for a missing person?

There are many services that will try to help when a person is missing. You can start with the police. For missing children, there is a Europe-wide hotline ( 116 000 ).

The German Red Cross says everyone who inquires about a missing person can remain anonymous. The GRC's Dieter Schütz assured InfoMigrants that data security and privacy protection are given the highest priority.

How one young man found his family

Not every search through the tracing service is successful, but Farhad's was.

In 2009, the young man left Afghanistan with his mother, sister and two of his brothers. They stayed for a while in Iran and Turkey before traveling onto Greece, where Farhad's mother and siblings boarded a boat bound for Italy. Farhad wanted to follow them the next day. It was stormy on the Ionian Sea and the boat filled with water. The Italian coastguard picked up the group and later returned them to Greece. This was when Farhad lost contact with his family.

Now alone, Farhad traveled through Italy, France, and Belgium, arriving in Germany in 2011. He applied for asylum and was issued with a 'humanitarian residence permit'. He tried calling home and using Facebook and the internet to search for his family, but it was no use, until he found out about the tracing service 'Trace the Face'. Here he published a photo of himself with the words “I'm looking for my family.” Then he waited.

About a month later, Farhad's brother's English teacher in Afghanistan discovered his photo and got in touch with the family, who had returned home. Soon after that, Farhad was speaking to his family over the phone.

As of 2016, Farhad's family was still in Afghanistan, but Farhad was hopeful that they would be able to join him in Germany. You can watch Farhad tell his story in Dari with German subtitles here.

Farhad S talked to his brother every day on the phone after the Red Cross helped him to trace his family in Afghanistan Copyright DWH Kiesel

Help available to look for missing relatives

Restoring Family Links: Tracing service of the International Committee of the Red Cross

German Red Cross Tracing Service (in English)

Trace the Face - Migrants in Europe: A photo-based tracing service for people looking for their relatives

The phone number of the European hotline for missing children is 116000


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