The Restoring Family Links programme works to connect families who have lost touch with each other due to conflict, disaster, or migration. The programme utilises the vast Red Cross network to connect people across countries and continents.

There are currently more displaced people globally than during World War II and, over the last year, Miriam and her team have handled more than 140 requests for help from families across 40 countries. Some have been resolved and the families reconnected. Others may take months or years before being resolved.

“When families come to Red Cross often they’ve tried all they can to find their loved one and haven’t had success,” says Miriam, “we’re often their last resort.”

Tracing lost family

The most frequent enquires Miriam receives are tracing requests. This is when a family member is trying to locate a missing loved one across international borders after they were separated by a disaster, conflict, or migration. A tracing request can take a lot of time, it can require months of investigation and searches.

One case Miriam was looking at involved a former refugee who had been resettled in New Zealand. It sticks in her mind because within an hour of hearing the enquirer’s story, Miriam had located news of someone she thought might be a sibling. She presented the enquirer with a photo and he was quickly confirmed as the brother.

“This was a particularly satisfying case as it was resolved so quickly and the joy from the enquirer was palpable,” says Miriam. “I was pretty excited myself because, after years of separation they had news of their entire family.”

Losing family links

Of course it is rarely that easy and Restoring Family Links is an important tool for families fleeing disaster and violence.

“People often ask whether we are still relevant in an era where people across the globe are more connected than ever,” Miriam says, “social media does enable people to connect more easily, however not everyone has access or can use it.”

It’s people forced into remote or isolated places by disaster or fighting who are most likely to have problems accessing communication channels. But the programme is also important for people who lost contact with their loved one decades ago. Miriam says the team still receives enquiries relating to families separated during World War Two. Reconnecting with family is important no matter how much time has passed.

“We all have the right to know what has happened to our missing family and it’s my role to help people try to find news of their loved ones,” says Miriam.

How to help

To learn more about the Restoring family links service you can visit www.familylinks.icrc.org or if you have lost contact with a loved one overseas because of conflict, disaster or migration you can contact the RFL team at familylinks@redcross.org.nz or 027 846 5363.