Communicating with loved ones in another country can be complicated in normal times. In a time of crisis, such as a natural disaster or an armed conflict, communication can be even more difficult. Phone lines may be overwhelmed, power outages may render phones and computers inoperable, or internet access may be cut off or restricted. When you lose contact in a time of crisis, it can be hard to know whether it’s because of a problem with the communication system or because something has happened to your loved ones.
Here are some ways to make contact with loved ones in a crisis and to find out where they are and whether they are safe.
Use text messaging.
A text message can often get through when a phone call will not. A connection too weak or unsteady for voice or video communication may be strong enough for sending and receiving text messages. Therefore, don’t immediately panic or imagine the worst possibilities when your calls don’t go through or you don’t hear from your loved ones. Try sending a text message, and allow time for a response.
Use social media.
If your loved ones have only intermittent access to power or have moved to a safer location, they may still be able to post and view social media messages. Check their social media accounts for recent activity that might tell you where and how they are. Some social media sites have private messaging functions you can use as a way to communicate. You might even post a public message asking for information about your loved ones’ wellbeing. If you post a public message, keep it general. Don’t give information that might be used by identity thieves or scammers or that might put your loved ones at risk in an armed conflict.
Reach out to others who know your loved ones.
You might be just one of many people concerned about your loved ones’ wellbeing, and they might not be able to respond to everyone. Other friends and family members may have information that you don’t. If you have contact information for any of your loved ones’ local friends, work colleagues or neighbours, call or send messages to see if they know where your loved ones are and whether they are safe. Again, if your loved ones are choosing not to reveal their location out of concern for their safety in an armed conflict, you’ll need to be careful in your communications not to say or ask too much.
Contact the local police.
- If the person you are seeking was a visitor to the country where they have gone missing, contact the local police in their home community and file a missing persons report. The police may refer you to your country’s consular service or involve them for additional help.
- If the person you are seeking was a resident of the country where they have gone missing, consider contacting the local police where they live. If you contact the police in another country, in a place where a natural disaster has occurred or there is armed conflict, recognise that they may have far more pressing priorities. Be respectful in your inquiries. Even if the local police don’t have information about your loved ones, they may be able to tell you about conditions in the community or geographic area.
Reach out to international aid organisations.
- The International Red Cross or Red Crescent operates a global aid network across more than 190 countries. Their Restoring Family Links programme, operated through the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC), helps reconnect people separated by war, conflict, disaster or migration. The service is free and confidential. Contact your local Red Cross or Red Crescent to find out how to apply to the programme for help in locating someone you love. You can also access the programme online to begin the process, at https://familylinks.icrc.org/en/Pages/home.aspx. (Note that the ICRC’s Family Links site has been temporarily unavailable since a cyberattack on 16 February 2022.)
- Other aid organisations offer family-tracing and reunification services in specific countries after natural disasters and in times of armed conflict. Identify the aid organisations that are active in the country where your loved ones live or in the countries to which they might have relocated, and find out whether these organisations offer tracing and reunification services.