Restoring Family Links (RFL) is one of the ICRC activities under the general “Protection” umbrella. Protection, as per the ICRC Institutional Policy Paper is defined as “aiming to ensure that authorities and other actors respect their obligations and the rights of individuals in order to preserve the safety, physical integrity and dignity of those affected by armed conflict and other situations of violence.”
Restoring family links aims at restoring and maintaining family links between those who become separated as a result of conflict, but also disaster or migration. This activity is most generally carried out jointly with the National Societies.
During conflict, disaster or migration, many families end up losing contact – whether it is because they are fleeing the conflict or as a result of an earthquake, this separation can be an extremely traumatic experience. Amongst the basic needs a human being has, in addition to food, shelter and safety, is family and becoming separated can be extremely distressing. The ICRC, as it does worldwide, works with national societies to try where possible to restore these links.
Iran is a big migratory hub, as a country of origin, transit and destination, thousands of migrants cross through Iran to make their way to Europe, in some cases, Iran is the final destination. Iran is one of the biggest hosts of migrants hosting up to 3 Million Afghans (documented and undocumented). As such, due to the strategic positioning of Iran and the large transit of persons, especially Afghans, the request for these services tend to come from this group.
Practically, how is this done?
The Red Cross and Red Crescent movement benefits from a worldwide network, each national society in turn usually has a country-wide network. Thanks to this global intertwining, the ICRC and the National Societies are able to carry out searches across the globe.
The search method is dependent on the circumstances of loss of contact, the context and environment and is based on an assessment to determine the most efficient way to carry out the search (e.g. posters, public announcements, through community leaders and places of worship, through the authorities, etc.)
The Restoring and Maintaining Family Links program in Iran is carried out jointly with the Iranian Red Crescent Society (IRCS). Both the ICRC and the IRCS receive individuals in the office who have lost contact with a relative and wish to re-establish the links. The officer then studies the request to ensure there is a minimum information available to allow for the start of the search and that it fits the conditions. Should the person have an address, they can send a Red Cross Message (RCM) which will be delivered by hand by an officer or volunteer of the Red Cross or Red Crescent in the receiving country. If however, the information is less detailed, then the person may be offered to open a tracing request – a form filled out to contain as much information as possible to allow for the search to begin. The ICRC and the IRCS then, through the wide network provided by the movement, will send the form to the ICRC or National Society located in the relevant country for the search.
Requests can only be accepted if the enquirer is a direct family member, and any search of sharing of information must be explicitly explained and agreed to by the enquirer. Similarly, should the person be located, the choice remains with the sought person to accept the re-establishment of the family links or not. Consent is at the core of any activity carried out on behalf of any beneficiary.
Similarly, the ICRC also receives requests from abroad for persons looking for their relative believed to be located inside Iran. Some may be from Afghan migrants in Europe who have lost contact with a relative they believe may have remained in Iran – Thanks to the IRCS’ countrywide network of branches, requests received from abroad are handled by the IRCS who will then carry out the search in the hopes of locating the missing relative.
Children are particularly vulnerable and their cases are given special attention as a result of their status.
Finally, the ICRC and the IRCS facilitate also contacts between detainees abroad and their families in Iran or detainees in Iran and their families abroad via the exchange of Red Cross Messages which are distributed by the Prison Organization of Iran.