Governments and civil society must do more to document the fate and whereabouts of people who disappear in conflicts or other circumstances and give stronger support to the families left behind, the International Committee of the Red Cross has said.
“Whether someone has disappeared during war, or migration or a disaster, the suffering of the families remains,” said Marianne Pecassou, who heads the ICRC’s team working on the missing. “It’s essential to collect information that is available today on people who disappear, how and where they have disappeared, that might be useful at some point in time to bring answers to the families,” said Pecassou, speaking as the world prepares to mark the International Day of the Disappeared on August 30.
But providing answers takes a long time and is often not possible while a conflict is still ongoing. For some families, there might never be a definitive answer. And in the meantime, families have a range of needs for support.
“All too often, especially in conflict situations, the problem of the missing is just not on the radar. Governments and other actors need to make sure it is on the agenda and do more to address the practical and emotional needs of the families,” Pecassou said.
The disappearance of a loved one may leave the family without economic support and often they will have to use up their dwindling resources on the search for their missing relative. In many cases, the family does not want to declare a missing person dead and so for example, they can’t access the person’s property or salary.
Families also suffer on an emotional and social level – they might experience isolation, sadness and marginalization and often need long-term support in order to overcome these difficulties and regain control of their lives.
There are over 4,500 people registered by the ICRC as missing in relation to the Nagorno Karabakh conflict, including more than 400 in Armenia. The ICRC supports the authorities in their efforts towards clarifying the fate of missing persons and addressing the needs of families of the missing in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Nagorno Karabakh. This includes collection of biological reference samples from the close relatives of the missing, which would increase the probability of the identification of human remains.
The ICRC also offers support of various kinds, working on the ground with the Armenian Red Cross Society and other local partners. Based on the needs of these families, the ICRC’s assistance encompasses economic security programs aimed at helping them improve the existing or establish new livelihoods, provision of legal, medical and administrative assistance, as well as emotional care and help with trying to find out ways of remembering their missing loved ones.