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Red Cross Makes Plea for Documentation on 'Disappeared'

FILE - Mothers, relatives and friends march with banners and posters showing images of relatives that have been disappeared, during Mother's Day, in Mexico City.

Ahead of Sunday's International Day of the Disappeared, the International Committee of the Red Cross appealed to governments and civil society to document the fate of people who have gone missing in conflicts and other disasters to alleviate the suffering of thousands of families living in a state of limbo.

A Latin American non-governmental organization created the International Day of the Disappeared in Costa Rica in 1981, with the aim to draw attention to the fate of individuals imprisoned under horrible conditions in places unknown to their families.

This period was marked by the disappearance of tens of thousands of people in the so-called "Dirty War" in Argentina, in the military coup in Chile and as a consequence of political unrest in other Latin American countries.

More than four decades later, hundreds of thousands of old and new cases of disappearances remain unresolved.

Complex issue

But Francis Markus, spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), told VOA the issue since has become more complex and has broadened to include people who have gone missing in natural disasters or in the process of migration as well as in war.

“No matter what the circumstances are of people's disappearance, the suffering and the anguish and the uncertainty, which families face is the same," Markus said.

"And so, we desperately need to bring more awareness to the issue and we need governments and civil society to do more to make sure that whatever documentation can be done in real time is being done so that it might be useful to provide answers in the future,” he said.

Markus said clarifying the whereabouts of a missing loved one would provide both emotional and practical support, but it also would allow people to move forward with their lives financially.

“In many cases, they are not able to access the person’s property or the person’s salary and they are left in serious economic difficulty. So, there are many sort of practical issues with which families need support as well as emotional issues,” he said.

Aid work

The ICRC is tackling the issue of disappearances in dozens of countries around the world, including major hotspots in the Middle East and Africa.

The aid group is working to trace those who have gone missing, and documents information for present and future use.

The ICRC also offers a variety of support to the families of the missing, ranging from economic security programs and livelihoods to legal advice.