The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is calling for a better and broader response to the needs of the families of persons missing as the result of armed conflict or natural disaster.
"Every year, hundreds of thousands of people are separated from loved ones in such situations," said Marianne Pecassou, the head of the ICRC team dealing with the missing.
"The families will tell you that what they need more than anything else is to find out what happened to the person who vanished – unfortunately, in too many cases, that question may never be resolved. But they also have other needs that go far beyond this."
Sometimes the needs stem from legal issues relating to the unresolved status of the missing person. These issues can involve such matters as inheritance, property, marital status or even the custody of children. There can also be financial needs caused by the costs involved in searching for the missing relative or in supporting the family if the person who disappeared was a main breadwinner.
However, as Milena Osorio, the ICRC's mental health and psychosocial support adviser explains, there are often huge psychological needs as well. These can involve emotional isolation, feelings of guilt, anger, depression or trauma, and tensions among family members or with members of their communities.
"The families of missing people frequently find themselves grappling with uncertainty. Most societies have religious or cultural rituals to deal with death," said Ms Osorio, "but there is very little to help the families of missing persons."
"Families have the right to know what happened to missing relatives. To find that out is their primary need, but further needs must also be addressed by governments and by organizations such as Red Cross or Red Crescent societies," said Ms Pecassou.
Every day the Irish Red Cross helps people in Ireland to re-establish contact with their family after separation due to armed conflict, political upheaval, natural disaster, migration and other humanitarian crises.
The 30th of August marks the International Day of the Disappeared. It's the day when we draw attention to the fate of missing people and the lives of their families who cope with the uncertainty of not knowing whether their loved ones are alive or dead.
To learn more about the Irish Red Cross’ role in Restoring Family Links, see www.redcross.ie-reuniting families.
Image: Pristina, Kosovo. A banner bears the names and photos of people from Mitrovica who are still missing. © ICRC