More than 25,000 minors are missing across Africa, according to the latest figures shared by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Children represent 40 percent of the 64,000 cases of disappeared persons registered by the ICRC across the continent.
There are more than 35 active armed conflicts in Africa today; thousands of people, including children, cross borders, the Sahara Desert and the Mediterranean Sea in search of safety and a better life each year. Such movements often entail great risk, including the risk of disappearance. Documented cases of missing persons are on the rise; however, the ICRC warns that the actual figures are much higher.
Sadly, the 25,000 registered cases do not capture the full scope of this often-neglected and tragic humanitarian issue. There is no doubt that there are more children whose fate remains unknown,” said Patrick Youssef, regional director for the ICRC in Africa.
During displacement, children face such risks as exploitation, violence, mental distress and disappearance. Many also end up alone, with no news of their families’ whereabouts. The ICRC has more than 5,200 documented cases of unaccompanied children in Africa.
Amina, a child whose parents were killed in an attack on their village in Mali, managed to flee with her younger brother to neighboring Niger. After four years of separation, the ICRC located her aunt.
When I saw her photo, my heart felt lighter because I had not heard from her in three or even four years. I thank God that I have news from her, and I cannot wait for the day we will be reunited and sitting like this together.” said Amina after a phone call with her aunt.
To promote a more coherent and effective approach among African states that can help prevent people from going missing and better provide information about their fate to their families, the ICRC together with the African Union is hosting a high-level policy meeting in Addis Ababa on August 30, focusing on missing migrants.
“Having the right policies in place can save lives. It is an essential step to protect migrants and families of missing persons. This is a question of humanity and human dignity,” said Patrick Youssef, “Families of the disappeared face immense pain and obstacles that often transcend generations. They are stuck in limbo, unable to move forward or grieve. The search for their loved ones never ends.”
In 2021, together with national Red Cross and Red Crescent societies, the ICRC helped establish the whereabouts and fates of 4,200 people and reunited 1,200 families across Africa. It also facilitated more than 773,000 phone and video calls between separated families as a result of armed conflict or other situations of violence, migration, detention or other circumstances.