The Red Cross is tracing the whereabouts of missing
or wounded persons of war

Nine-year-old Samuel was at school when the soldiers destroyed his family’s home. The boy was looking for his parent to no avail. With the help of his uncle, he managed to escape the war to Finland. With the help of The Red Cross Tracing Service, he first got in touch with a distant relative and then with his aunt who was in Canada.

The war and some great natural disasters are breaking up families. The uncertainty of the destiny of close family members is most agonising to a human being. What has happened to them?

The Red Cross brings relief to the uncertainty by helping the family members, who have become separated from the rest of the family, to find the others and to keep in contact with each other.

The International Committee of The Red Cross is directing the work within the war zones. It carries out about 10 000 traces each year and facilitates more than 500 000 messages.

All of the 186 national associations of The Red Cross and The Red Crescent take part in reuniting the families and facilitating the messages. The Finnish Red Cross is a part of this worldwide network.

Several traces and messages from Finland
Out of the cases that The Finnish Red Cross is looking into, Samuel’s case is one with a happy ending.

- We carry out about 150 traces for a missing person each year to more than 30 different countries, says the Planner, Aki Väilä. There is not always a happy ending or even final information to all of the enquiries. Any little information is, however, better than uncertainty to a person looking for a member of their family.

- It is difficult to find missing people in the countries that have war, because the usual ways of communication, postal service or the telephones do not work. We must be patient. It takes a lot of work and time to build a connection between family members. It could take a year or even more before there is an answer.

Lately most of the traces for a missing person have been to Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran and Somalia.

- Most of the messages, on the other hand, are facilitated between Finland and Afghanistan, Somalia, Angola and Congo. Last year we facilitated 71 messages. 33 of the messages were sent here.

We have also done some traces for a missing person to Russia on family members lost during the Second World War, says Aki Väilä.

An application form is used for the Tracing Service
A missing person’s relative, guardian or a representative can make an application for Tracing Service. In the application form of The Red Cross Tracing Service is asked, for example, the missing person’s personal information and the last known address.
The Finnish Red Cross sends the completed form to The Red Cross or The Red Crescent of that country where the missing person is looked for. The service is confidential and the personal information will not be given to any third parties. The local Red Cross may, however, try to trace the missing person by using, for example, the official registers.

When the missing person is found, he/she can decide if they allow The Red Cross to pass on their address to the family members.

Even when the trace does not bring any results, the missing person’s personal information stays in the database of The Red Cross. If some new information comes up, the search will be restarted.

The messages are used only for the family’s personal news
The Red Cross helps also the family members to exchange family news with each other when the usual postal and telecommunication services do not work because of the war or a disaster. The messages can be facilitated for as long as the usual connections are working again.

A message can be written on the ready made form and the message can contain only personal and family news - sending of the political messages is not allowed. Photographs can be attached to the message, but not, for example, money or medication.

The Red Cross will facilitate the messages through their own network. When the receiver of the message can not be found, The Red Cross will return the message to the sender. A reason why the message could not be sent to the receiver will be noted on the form.

Using the help of the information technology
The Red Cross saves the information about the casualties of war collected from different parts of the world into the databases. The largest databases collected are on Rwanda and The Balkans.

The International Committee also keeps up Internet pages (Family Links) to help to reunite the families. It is possible to look for the missing family members through these pages. People can log their own contact details in there and the names of the people they are looking for. The address of the Internet page is .
The names of the missing people are also published, for example, at the refugee camps, in the news papers and on the radio.

The work of re-establishing the contacts between the family members that The Red Cross does is based on the Geneva Conventions and their supplementary protocols.

Additional information on the Tracing Service and the message facilitation service is available on the following Internet pages of The Finnish Red Cross:

Aki Väilä
The Finnish Red Cross (SPR), Tracing Service

Käännös: Keski-Suomen tulkkikeskus