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close this bookHandbook for Emergencies - Second Edition (UNHCR, 1999, 414 p.)
close this folder10. Community Services and Education
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentOverview
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentOrganizing Community Services
View the documentHuman Resources
View the documentFamily Tracing and Reunification
View the documentGroups at Risk and Vulnerable Groups
View the documentEducation
View the documentKey References
View the documentAnnexes

Family Tracing and Reunification

· Tracing and reunion of separated family members must be organized as quickly as possible;

· Refugees must be able to send and receive mail.

24. Procedures for the reunion of refugee family members separated during flight or within the country of asylum should be agreed with the authorities and implemented as soon as practicable. Tracing programmes should be set up and co-ordinated in the country of asylum, country of origin and regionally. At camp or local level, simple and effective tracing mechanisms include posting lists of names with photographs on the community notice boards in different locations, using the radio, or even making announcements by megaphone. The tracing arrangements must be widely promulgated; a central contact point in each site is likely to be needed. Tracing is a delicate task, and has to be organized by people who have the necessary experience and skills. A suitably experienced agency may be needed to implement these activities. Tracing requires the involvement of the refugees themselves, who will play a key role. The local population and authorities can also play an important role. Confidentiality of information and protection of individuals is also essential.

25. Consider the causes of separation when establishing tracing systems. Separation may have been caused by large scale population movements but may also have been due to other factors such as children opting to leave their families, or placement of persons outside their family for survival purposes. Outsiders, often relief workers, may have removed a child from an apparently dangerous situation, without informing the family and without proper documentation.

26. The following actions should be taken:

Organize tracing and reunion of separated family members as quickly as possible, giving first priority to unaccompanied minors and other extremely vulnerable individuals;

Combine a variety of systems: on the spot tracing, use of community mechanisms and formalized tracing at a regional level;

Coordinate activities with agencies having expertise, e.g. the ICRC. Note that ICRC procedures, using the national Red Cross or Red Crescent societies, can be lengthy but may be the most appropriate for difficult cases;

Ensure regional standardization of registration systems;

Set-up a communication network in the community including a mailing system. A properly organized exchange of news (Red Cross messages) may considerably diminish the workload of a tracing service and accelerate the reunion of family members. Refugees have the right to send and receive mail.