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Where are they? Searching for missing persons and meeting their families’ needs


People go missing in Africa during armed conflicts, other situations of violence, disasters and in the context of migration. In addition to missing persons themselves, their families bear the brunt of the trauma. Through coordinated action, governments can ensure family links are preserved or re-established and reduce the impact on society. This report draws on the ICRC activities with families, authorities and other actors to deal with the problem of missing persons and their relatives.

Key findings

  • In Africa, the impact of missing persons on individuals, families and communities is one of the most damaging and long-lasting humanitarian consequences of armed conflict and other situations of violence, along with migration.

  • Efforts are needed to address cases of missing persons and to prevent people from going missing. Families are central to these efforts.

  • Robust institutional and legal frameworks are essential in addressing at national level the issue of missing persons and their families.

  • Political will and sustained commitment are key to ensuring effective developments to deal with the issue of missing persons in compliance with international law. Those efforts can be nurtured at local, national and regional level. States should also address the question of missing persons within their efforts to solve conflicts.

  • The question of missing persons should be included in transitional justice processes, which play a crucial role in addressing the suffering of individuals, families and communities in postconflict situations.

  • Clarifying the fate and whereabouts of persons missing in the context of migration requires a strong and committed transnational effort from countries along migration routes in the region and beyond.


National authorities, regional bodies and the African Union should:

  • Acknowledge the tragedy of missing persons and address the problems their families face as a result of this situation.

  • Put in place preventative measures and early initiatives to deal with the issue of missing persons.

  • Identify relevant gaps, needs and limitations that hinder the prevention and the search for missing persons.

  • Respond to the various needs of families and ensure institutional and legal frameworks that allow for an individual-specific assessment and response. The rights and needs of families to know the fate and whereabouts of their missing relative should be at the centre of search processes and should be upheld.

  • Ensure political will to address the issue of missing persons and increase search capacity and efforts in that regard.

  • Consider establishing dedicated national mechanisms on the issue of missing persons where relevant.

  • Include the question of missing persons in truth-seeking, justice and reconciliation processes, which should have lines of coordination with other bodies tasked with clarifying the fate and whereabouts of missing persons. The AU’s transitional justice policy is a key guiding document.

  • Establish clear pathways to be followed in searching for and identifying persons missing in the context of migration. Clear principles should be adopted for the exchange of information and effective coordination channels among authorities in countries along migration routes.