Iraq: Restoring family links

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Posted by Sadie from ? ( on Sunday, April 20, 2003 at 10:57PM :

ICRC News Press kit

Iraq: Restoring family links - Press kit
The ICRC has set up a special tracing unit for Iraq at its training centre near Geneva to centralize data on prisoners of war and information needed to restore family links.
Photos in high resolution for media use

The past month has been a trying time for Iraqi families. The recent bombing, the breakdown of telephone, television and transport services, the arrests that have been made and the prevailing insecurity in various cities have given Iraqis at home and abroad abundant cause for concern. A great many have had no news of their relatives and are anxiously waiting for signs of life.

In this extremely unstable situation, information is of paramount importance. On 26 March the ICRC set up a special tracing unit for Iraq at its training centre in Ecogia (20 km from Geneva) to centralize data on prisoners of war and information needed to restore family links. The unit comprises more than 50 people, mainly English/Arabic translators, data entry operators, IT technicians and specialists in detention-related and tracing activities. "Our two priorities - to collect data on prisoners and missing persons and to restore contact between relatives separated by the conflict - are closely linked," said Pierre Barras, who heads the unit.

In performing these tasks, the tracing unit relies on information provided by ICRC field delegates who visit and register prisoners held by the coalition forces in Iraq and Kuwait (4,000 prisoners registered so far). It also processes capture cards filled out by the detaining authorities and data received from the information bureaux set up by the American, British and Australian authorities in accordance with the Geneva Conventions. Moreover, it receives hundreds of brief "safe and well" messages from ICRC delegates in Iraq, who gather them and send them to the unit by fax, and from Iraqis living abroad. These precious messages are immediately forwarded to their addressees in other parts of the world through the ICRC and the network of National Red Cross / Red Crescent Societies. For the time being it is impossible to send messages to Iraq, so the tracing unit has opened a FamilyLinks - Gulf 2003 website (, designed to help separated relatives locate one another and exchange news. "We currently receive 400 requests a day," said Pierre Barras as a new team of data entry operators came in for the second shift (3-11 pm).

Further information:
Antonella Notari, ICRC Geneva, tel.: ++41 22 730 22 82 / ++41 79 217 32 80
Florian Westphal ICRC Geneva, tel.: ++41 22 730 29 30 / ++41 79 217 32 26

Photos on this page:
Special tracing unit for Iraq at the ICRC training centre in Ecogia (20 km from Geneva)
04-2003 ICRC/Thierry Gassmann

NOTE: Professional utilisation of these photos
These photos are offered for press use in publications and other media.
All ICRC photos must be accompanied by the mention
" ICRC" and the name of the photographer.

The high resolution images in ZIP format can be downloaded for professional reproduction.

Several ZIP decompression utilities are available on the web (see weblink below)

-- Sadie
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