It all began during the Battle of Solferino in 1859.  By sending a message from a wounded young man to his parents, Henry Dunant made the first gesture illustrating what the Red Cross Tracing Agency was to become. The Red Cross’ agency on maintaining and restoring family links developed considerably during the Franco-Prussian War in 1870, under the name Basle Agency. During the First and Second World Wars it took on a crucial role as the focus of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) humanitarian action and the agency’s then name of “Central Agency for Prisoners of War”, expressed the focus of its work. From 1945, the agency started to provide help to non-prisoner civilians and refugees. In 1960 the name “Central Tracing Agency” was adopted, as the former name no longer corresponded to the new activities the agency provided. By then the Central Tracing Agency’s work was also taking account of victims of internal conflicts and had extended its activities to searching for victims of natural disasters. The ICRC today continues to uphold its role of protecting and assisting victims of international and non-international armed conflict and other situation of violence. Amongst its diverse range of humanitarian initiatives, it plays an important task in reminding authorities of their obligations with regard to family links. Today, Restoring Family Links work takes place in an ever-changing environment to which the Movement must respond and adapt. This includes the increase of natural and man-made disasters and the increasing internal and international population movement. To ensure that the Red Cross movement can continue to respond to current and emerging trends in needs in relation to reuniting family members, a strategy was adopted in 2007 to reaffirm the Red Cross Movement’s commitment to RFL and proposed three objectives:
  • Improving RFL capacity and performance
  • Enhancing co-ordination and intra-Movement co-operation and
  • Strengthening the support for RFL
National Societies of the Red Cross and Red Crescent throughout the world have an important role to play as the components of this international network for tracing and reuniting families. One example of the strength of the grassroots network is provided by the story of a Libyan man who fled his country in 1968 and settled in Switzerland. For decades, he was totally cut off from relatives and friends. This year, with help from the ICRC and the Swiss Red Cross, he was able to get back in contact with his loved ones in Libya and go visit them. “Seeing your family again after 43 years – it’s like being born again” said Mr Al Naji, overwhelmed by emotion as he set foot on Libyan soil. A new family-links website,, has been recently launched by the ICRC to help members of dispersed families restore contact with each other. The new website will provide information on tracing services available in every part of the world, contact details of national Red Cross and Red Crescent societies and ICRC delegations, and other useful resources. While the chief purpose of will be to serve people searching for loved ones, the
Written by Jennifer Wilson is Restoring Family Links Officer at the Irish Red Cross, Dublin
Written by Jennifer Wilson is Restoring Family Links Officer at the Irish Red Cross, Dublin
website may also be of interest to humanitarian organizations and welfare service providers to whom these people have turned for help. The site will also serve as a platform for exchanges between tracing specialists.
To learn more about the Irish Red Cross’ role in Restoring Family Links see