How do you look for a loved one who has gone missing during a migration journey? There are several places you can turn to for help.
Migrants who travel thousands of kilometers across deserts, mountains and rough terrain cannot always get in touch or lack the means to send messages to their loved ones back home. Often, there are simple explanations for their silence: there may have been no opportunity to charge a mobile phone, or there is no signal for days on end.
At other times, however, the reasons are more worrying. Migration journeys can involve dangers like kidnapping, robbery and extortion. In some parts of Europe, such as Croatia, migrants have reported that security forces destroyed their phones and stole their belongings before pushing them back. There are also reports of smugglers taking phones and other possessions from migrants to pay for "extra costs" incurred during their journeys.
There are also many, many deaths of migrants -- hundreds drown in Mediterranean waters, die from exposure or starve in the Saharan desert each year.
In many cases, those who go "missing" do resurface and find ways to get in contact with their families again. But if you haven't heard from a loved one and you need to find out whether they are alive and safe, there are a number of platforms you can turn to for help.
Restoring Family Links
Managed by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) as well as the Red Crescent, Restoring Family Links seeks to bring together families who have not heard from a loved one because of "a humanitarian crisis such as a conflict, a natural disaster or migration."
This service is available for free in every country in the world, reaching across borders in the hope of bringing people back together. To use this service, you have to contact the Red Cross or Red Crescent in your country and provide them with details about the person you're looking for.
After compiling information on the missing person, Restoring Family Links checks various databases, creates a case file and starts searching on your behalf, using the global network of the Red Cross and Red Crescent. The organization stresses that throughout the whole process, all personal data is handled securely.
"Our staff will be fully respectful of your culture and religion and are familiar with the local language and your needs," Restoring Family Links says on its website. The organization can also help online with searches in certain cases, though it says that in the large majority of searches for a missing person a personal interview at a Red Cross or Red Crescent facility will be necessary.
"In some cases, we can publish the names and photos of people looking for their families online. Online tracing is only available in certain situations," Restoring Family Links says.
For more information, go to https://familylinks.icrc.org/
Trace the Face
Trace the Face tries to gather information on missing persons who have embarked on migrations to Europe specifically. With about 150 new entries each month, Trace the Face is an extension of Restoring Family Links, and uses pictures in the hope of reuniting relatives.
According to its website, Trace the Face is currently "the only online platform whose sole goal is to help migrants and their families find one another."
In order to use the service, you have to go to a Red Cross or Red Crescent office in the country where you live and submit information about the missing family member you are looking for. Your picture will be taken as part of the process. However, you can decide whether you want your picture to be seen by the public on the Trace the Face website or whether you only wish to disclose it to the tracing services used by the ICRC and National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies worldwide. You also get to decide which organizations will then have access to the personal information you share with Trace the Face.
"Depending on your personal wishes and concerns, the tracing process can involve other National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, ICRC delegations, government authorities, civil-society organizations and international organizations."
People might wonder why Trace the Face uses pictures of the person who is looking for a missing relative, rather than posting a picture of the missing person instead.
"Data protection regulations in Europe are very strict. They prohibit organizations from publishing the pictures of adults without their consent. However, the tracing services of the ICRC and National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies can keep a photo of your relative on file. The photo will not be displayed publicly," the organization explains.
Trace the Face also stresses that it can only help family members of a missing person and not friends. However, if you are wondering about the whereabouts of a friend, the organization recommends that you approach a close family member of that person and ask them to file a tracing request.
For more information, visit https://familylinks.icrc.org/europe/en/Pages/home.aspx
German Red Cross (GRC)
With the majority of migrants to Europe residing in Germany, the German Red Cross has launched a dedicated service in English to address the issue of missing persons. The GRC Tracing Service "helps to trace family members, to put them back in contact and to reunite families," the organization says on its website.
With over 150 years of experience, the German Red Cross says that tens of thousands of people make use of the GRC Tracing Service each year.
"In the case of tracing requests from refugees and migrants who have lost contact with their family members, the GRC Tracing Service works closely with Red Cross/Red Crescent societies around the world and also with the International Committee of the Red Cross."
In some cases, the GRC Tracing Service says that it can also provide advice on the legal requirements for family reunifications and support with the visa application process.
The GRC Tracing Service is headquartered in Hamburg and Munich but has also a network of 80 Tracing Service support centers in the GRC district branches throughout Germany.
For further information, visit https://www.drk-suchdienst.de/en
There is another service similar to "Trace the Face" called "Maybe Here". Created by Syrian software developer Mohammed Tutonji, the online service also relies on pictures to reconnect long-lost relatives. Tutonji, who is himself a refugee in Turkey, says his motivation was to "centralize information about people who had disappeared along the migration route."
"I wanted to create a platform where all the information had been verified and was updated regularly. I thought it could be a really useful tool for people looking for missing loved ones who often aren’t even carrying identity papers."
To use his platform, you register online and fill out a form with details about the person you’re looking for. Tutonji says he then contacts you to verify the details before sharing them online.
In contrast to Trace the Face, Maybe Here actually uses pictures of the missing people themselves. The service is incorporated outside the EU, so, for now, it does not need to comply as closely with European Union data guidelines.
Also, as the service is effectively privately run, you may not benefit from accessing global networks as is the case with services offered by the Red Cross. Nevertheless, the website highlights that it has had several success stories.
You can also use the Maybe Here database to search for all reported missing people on the site. The website is available in English and in Arabic.
"My aim is to develop the site in different languages, especially French, German, and Turkish, so I can increase my audience and also increase the chances of locating missing people," Tutonji told InfoMigrants in 2017.
For further information, go to https://www.maybehere.org/en
There are many unaccompanied minors among migrants coming to Europe. While some of them originally embarked on their journeys alone, others were separated from their parents during their migration. According to Eurostat, there were nearly 20,000 unaccompanied minors registered among the EU’s migrant population in 2018.
There is a Europe-wide free emergency helpline for missing children: the number is 116000. The helpline is currently operating in all EU countries, plus the United Kingdom, Albania, Serbia, Switzerland and partially in Ukraine.
In France, the 116000 number is operated by Enfants Disparus (lost children). "116 000’s role is to advise families with regard to the administrative and legal procedures they need to undertake. Through its extensive network of contacts (…) Enfants Disparus through their privileged status in the enquiry, keep families updated on progress," the organization says online.
You can learn more about Enfants Disparus at https://www.116000enfantsdisparus.fr/en/home.html