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100 years of the tracing service

The Right to Know: 100 Years of the Australian Red Cross International Tracing Service

A FREE exhibition at the Blacktown Visitor Information & Heritage Centre, Sydney, 21 June-16 September 2016

Australian Red Cross is celebrating 100 years of reconnecting loved ones separated by war, conflict, disaster and migration.To mark this centenary, a free exhibition is being held to showcase the history of the service and the stories of those it has helped.

From the battlefields of Gallipoli and the Western Front of WWI, to WWII, post-war migration, innumerable natural and man-made disasters and right through to the modern day, the Australian Red Cross International Tracing Service has helped thousands of people reconnect with their loved ones across the world over the last 100 years.

At the centre of these centenary celebrations is The Right to Know: 100 Years of the Australian Red Cross International Tracing Service, a special exhibition that highlights the history of the service and shares the stories of some of those it has helped.

A service that changes lives

Imagine having your world turned upside down. You and your family face immediate danger; you're forced to flee from your home and in the ensuing chaos, you become separated from your loved ones. You find yourself in unfamiliar circumstances; life as you know it has changed forever. How will you find those you hold so dear?

That's where the tracing service can help.

For those separated from family members by war, conflict, disaster or migration, Red Cross helps reduce the suffering by finding missing loved ones, re-establishing contact, exchanging family news and clarifying the fate of the missing.

For many people, the Red Cross tracing service is their last hope of ever restoring contact with missing family members.

The global need

Around the world right now, it is estimated that more than 51 million people have been forced to leave their homes. When people flee from danger, family members can become separated, not knowing where their loved ones are or even if they are still alive.

The level of human displacement worldwide is now the highest ever on record. According to UNHCR's Annual Global Trends report for 2013, 51.2 million people were counted as refugees, asylum-seekers or internally displaced people and an estimated 10.7 million people were newly displaced due to conflict or persecution. During this period, children under 18 years made up 50 per cent of the refugee population.

This displacement leads to family separation and community breakdown, with people often not knowing where their loved ones are or even if they are still alive. The impact on families, friends and the missing is devastating, with feelings of loss, grief and depression and helplessness common.

Red Cross recognises the deep suffering that is caused by separation and the uncertainty of not knowing the fate of loved ones and works to alleviate this suffering.

How it all began

The origins of Red Cross' International Tracing service dates from the organisation's founder, Swiss businessman Henry Dunant and his experiences of the aftermath of the Battle of Solferino in 1859.

While Dunant was working with volunteers to assist the wounded and carry the dead from the battlefield, a dying soldier asked him to tell his parents about his fate. Dunant later went to France to deliver this sad, yet important, message. If not for this first Red Cross message, the family would never have known of their son's fate.

The Australian tracing service began in 1915, when Vera Deakin, a young woman from Melbourne travelled to Cairo, Egypt in the midst of WWI to work for Australian Red Cross. It was there that she helped establish the Wounded and Missing Enquiry Bureau: a service that helps relatives locate missing serviceman; the beginning of the Australian Red Cross International Tracing Service.

The tracing service today

As custodian of the Geneva Conventions, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has a mandate in the application of international humanitarian law. One such law is that people have an inherent right to know the fate of relatives from whom they are separated in times of conflict.

With a worldwide network in 189 countries, almost every country worldwide, Red Cross is in a unique position to locate people who are missing due to war, conflict, disaster or migration. The service, known globally as Restoring Family Links, is the only one of its kind in the world and is provided confidentially and free of charge.

The International Tracing Service of Australian Red Cross works with the ICRC and Red Cross and Red Crescent National Societies from other countries in one single worldwide network that aims to restore family links, re-establish contact between separated family members, facilitate the exchange of family news and clarify the fate of the missing.

Its principles of humanity, neutrality and impartiality means Red Cross can undertake searches and gain access to places that others cannot, including conflict and disaster zones, refugee camps and places of detention.

While technology may have revolutionised the tracing service over the decades, most Red Cross messages delivered around the world are still written on paper; hand delivered and carried into neighbourhoods and villages in person by Red Cross staff and volunteers.

Come and experience the stories for yourself

In 2015, the Australian Red Cross International Tracing Service celebrates 100 years of reconnecting family members or clarifying the fate of those separated by war, conflict, disaster or migration. To mark this centenary, Australian Red Cross has created an exhibition that celebrates the work of this very special service.

Understand the reasons why a family can become separated and how circumstances make it impossible for them to find one another.

Discover how a young woman from Melbourne helps establish the Australian tracing service during World War I and learn how Red Cross works to reconnect people across the world today.

Experience the emotion of those who have been separated from their loved ones and what the Red Cross tracing service has meant to them.

The Right to Know: 100 Years of the Australian Red Cross International Tracing Service

Blacktown Visitor Information & Heritage Centre
Civic Plaza, Flushcome Road, Blacktown, NSW 2148 [map]
Phone: 1300 302 858
21 June-16 September 2016 (10am-3pm, Tuesday to Saturday. Closed public holidays)
Cost: FREE

Find out more about tracing

Why do people need the tracing service?

View "A family reconnected"

Visit our interactive webpage and step into the shoes of Nadine as she flees her home in Burundi during civil war. Understand why people like Nadine need to seek safety, the experiences they face and how Red Cross works to helps reconnect those separated by war.

A letter's long journey

A letters long journey

Melania was one of hundreds of thousands displaced by civil war in Burundi. Read her story

Red letter day

Red Letter Day

Jean was separated from his family when he fled war-torn Burundi at the age of 16. Read his story.

Messages of hope

Message of hope

Isha and her daughter Faduma had to wait 19 years to be reunited again in Australia. Read their story

Do you need the help of the tracing service?

If you have been separated from family members as a result of war, conflict, disaster or migration and have been unable to get in contact with them, Red Cross may be able to help.

For more information about the Australian Red Cross International Tracing Service and to find out if we can assist you, please contact the Red Cross office in your state or territory:

ACT (02) 6234 7600
QLD (07) 3367 7222
NSW (02) 9229 4111
NT (08) 8924 3900
SA (08) 8100 4500
TAS (03) 6235 6077
VIC (03) 8327 7700
WA (08) 9225 8888

Email us.

More about the Tracing Service, including eligibility criteria and an information sheet which is translated into 18 different languages, is available here »