Restoring Family Links for Migrants

Published: 15 January 2013

Jagan Chapagain, Asia Pacific Zone Director at the ICRC & IRCS RFL meeting for Migrants Tehran (Iran) 15 - 17 January 2013

Dear colleagues,

I want to thank both the IRCS and ICRC for the invitation to be here today at this important meeting on RFL for Migrants especially in the context of complex migratory routes and current global challenges and represent the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).

As the Director of the Asia Pacific Zone this is a particular area of interest for me given that this area of the world is both a source and destination point for migrants. Migrants seeking better opportunities in Europe and the Arab States and transiting through Iran, Iraq, Turkey and Greece as well as those heading further south to Australia.

Since the development of the Federation Policy on Migration, in close cooperation with ICRC, in 2009 IFRC and RCRC National Societies have been actively engaged in implementing the key ten principles which I understand Sue Le Mesurier will elaborate on further.

Restoring Family Links or what was formally know to many as ‘tracing of family members’ has always been an essential part of many national societies work especially in the face of displacement whether it be due to conflict or environmental disasters. In all cases the role of ICRC as the lead agency in supporting national societies in RFL has been essential.

While on the move, for whatever reason, migrant’s links with their families and communities at home are often weakened and sometimes entirely lost. The worldwide family links network of National Societies and the ICRC is often the last resort for restoring family links between the migrants and their families. The Migration Policy therefore highlights the essential need for National Societies, to working together along the migratory trails to take action for restoring the family links of migrants.

As time is short I briefly want to highlight three current challenges and areas of concern with regard to the protection needs of migrants, and the importance of RFL in the context of disasters.


  1. Stranded migrants as ‘non citizens’ requiring relief and protection
  2. Migrants forced to flee a disaster across an international border and requiring temporary protection.
  3. The particular vulnerability of unaccompanied children and the increased risk of trafficking.


Stranded Migrants


IFRC and member National Societies are well-known for providing emergency relief in disaster situations and emergency assistance including RFL services have been provided to migrants who find themselves stranded after a disaster. Stranded migrants as ‘non citizens’ are often not receiving the immediate assistance and protection provided by Governments and other local relief agencies. The coordination and provision of relief and RFL services to stranded migrants by the Haitian and Dominican Republic Red Cross Societies after the 2010 earthquake, the Thai Red Cross after 2011 floods, and Japanese Red Cross after the earthquake and tsunami of 2011 are recent examples.  The Thai Red Cross specifically worked closely with local community organizations to identify irregular and undocumented migrants who were not receiving assistance distributed by Government agencies due to their ‘invisibility’ in their communities.  More needs to be done by the RCRC Movement to highlight the specific vulnerability and needs of this group of migrants.

Cross border displacement

Every year, millions of people are forcibly displaced by floods, wind-storms, earthquakes, droughts and other natural disasters. Many find refuge within their own country but some have to move abroad. In the context of increasing frequency and intensity of disasters due to global warming, such movements are likely to in-crease. National and international responses to this challenge are currently insufficient and protection for affected people remains inadequate.


Persons moving across borders in the context of natural disasters are protected by human rights law, while refugee law applies to a very limited extent only. However, since human rights protection does not address critical issues such as admission, temporary/ permanent stay and basic rights, a legal gap exists with respect to cross-border displacement. The Secretariat has recently been invited to engage with a consultation process on these issues and will ensure that RFL needs continue to be prioritised for these migrants who have lost contact with family members.


Unaccompanied children

The Policy on Migration states that the International Federation and the ICRC shall provide guidelines and advice to National Societies working in situations of heightened and acute risks to migrants with a particular focus in principle 5 on the plight of unaccompanied children.


An increasing number of migrants are unaccompanied minors or minors separated from their families. Without the provision of family links through RFL or appropriate care arrangements, they are at high risk of abuse and exploitation. Their rights may be violated along the migratory trail, and their prospects for a secure and productive future are often dim. With worldwide trafficking of children on the increase these minors are of special concern to the Movement and require targeted interventions before during and after a child migrates. I trust that this meeting will identify where and how we can do more to protect these at risk children through RFL and other services.

IC Resolution

Finally, I wish to remind participants of the migration resolution adopted at the 31st International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent in November 2011. The resolution expresses concern about the often alarming humanitarian situation of migrants in situations of distress and vulnerability, at all stages of their journey, and the ongoing risks that migrants face in regards to their dignity, safety, and access to international protection. The resolution calls for governments to ensure that all migrants (including stranded migrants), irrespective of their legal status, have access to the assistance and protection they need and are treated at all times with respect and dignity.


The International Conference Resolution also highlighted the importance of Restoring family Links for migrants at international borders especially those that are denied access to international protection, deported or detained. The Resolution called upon states to grant migrants appropriate international protection and ensure their access to relevant services, such as Restoring Family Links.


This meeting is therefore timely in addressing the operational challenges and opportunities for implementing both the Policy on Migration and the IC Resolution with regard to RFL and encourage cooperation between Movement partners.

As the recent 2012 World Disaster Report on Forced Migration and Displacement noted, tragically the number of people forcibly displaced is increasing as the phenomena of migration becomes more complex. More than 20 million people are currently trapped in a state of “protracted displacement” – living in camps or invisible in unplanned and informal parts of cities, typically unable to work and unable to access even basic social services. Jointly we can work in partnership to improve the lives of these people.

Finally I assure you that the IFRC will remain committed to developing and strengthening existing partnerships within the Movement to galvanize our collective response to the complexity of current migration challenges and allow us to better harness the myriad of opportunities and challenges that as a global movement this presents for all of us today.

Thank you.