Exploration 5D: Focus on Restoring Family Links


Exploration 5D focuses on the plight of families separated by armed conflict and the effort needed to restore and maintain the links between separated family members. A photo collage helps learners step into the shoes of these families. Learners experience the methods involved in tracing when asked to fill out a tracing request about a “lost” family member. Learners examine the scale of effort needed and the basis in international humanitarian law (IHL) for maintaining that effort.

This course is two 45 – to 60 – minute sessions.


  • To be aware of the plight of families separated by war
  • To understand the scale of effort required to restore and maintain links between family members

Key Ideas

  • Armed conflict results in vast numbers of people becoming separated from their families with no means of communicating with them.
  • IHL requires action to restore and maintain family links, including reuniting families.
  • Many steps are required to trace and reunite a single family.


Make copies of the tracing and message forms for learners to use.



Separated By Armed Conflict | 10 minutes

In the chaos of armed conflict, families are forced to flee from their homes and family members are often separated. We will look at the scope of the effort involved in re-establishing family links.

Give students the following statistics on the number of children separated from their families because of armed conflict.

More than half of the estimated 50 million refugees and internally displaced people in the world today are children and adolescents. More than two million are children who have been separated from their families. As unaccompanied children, they are especially vulnerable to abuse, sexual exploitation and recruitment as child soldiers.

To help students understand the scope of these numbers ask questions such as:

  • How many of us are in this classroom?How many classrooms would make two million people?
  • OR

  • How many sports stadiums would it take to hold 50 million people?
  • Discuss the significance of being separated from their families because of armed conflict.

    Possible questions:

  • Apart from children, who might be other vulnerable people who need special attention to restore family links? [Examples: elderly people who are alone, disabled people, prisoners without means of communication]

  • 2

    The Experience of Separation | 20 minutes

    Introduce “Photo collage 5D”, which illustrates some of the effort involved in tracing as well as the experiences of families during separation and reunification. Invite learners’ reactions and questions:

    Possible questions:

  • Have you ever been lost? What do you remember about the experience? How old were you? How were you found?
  • Who are the people in particular need of family news? Why?
  • What might be some problems for the families who are separated? Especially for separated children? For prisoners? For the elderly?
  • What might be some problems that humanitarian workers encounter when they are trying to reunite families? [Examples: children too young or too traumatized to communicate, language differences, ongoing combat, inability to get access across fighting lines that divide family members, families scattered over large areas, relatives who have fled, been displaced or are dead]

  • 3

    The Task of Tracing and Reuniting | 15 – 20 minutes

    In many conflicts, the situation makes it impossible to respond to all demands to reunite separated family members. Discuss the following situations that a humanitarian worker might face. Have learners suggest criteria for when and where to arrange reunification:

  • Is it acceptable to organize a family reunification on behalf of 30 – year-old men in an area where all men over 18 are being mobilized to fight?
  • Is it acceptable to reunite a child living in a camp for displaced persons with his family living in a war-torn city? [Examples of criteria: the degree of vulnerability, an age limit for males to avoid helping actual or potential combatants, the security situation and avoiding moving people into a worse situation than they are already in]
  • Use the “Tracing inquiry form” to share with learners the range of family information that is collected.

    Possible questions:

  • What kinds of actions or steps can a humanitarian worker take to trace a missing or lost person? [Examples: going to the last home address; checking at hospitals and cemeteries; searching lists of refugees and displaced persons; enquiring at prison; asking local authorities to gather information among villagers; publicizing lists of names through newspapers, radio, Internet, posters, display boards; displaying photographs of children; taking parents to children's centres to identify small children.] Note: All tracing actions must respect the privacy of individuals.
  • What might be some reasons why it’s often so difficult to gather information about people who were missing during an armed conflict?
  • Use the “Red Cross message form” to show how communication is transmitted.

    Possible questions:

  • What kind of information is allowed in these messages?
  • Why do Red Cross workers check the content of Red Cross messages before delivering them? [News sent through a Red Cross message should be of a strictly personal nature to avoid conveying sensitive information with regard to the conflict or political matters.]
  • Why does it matter what is in the message? [To avoid having warring parties raise objections to the sending of family messages.]

  • 4

    Evacuation of Unaccompanied Children | 10 – 15 minutes

    Use the fact sheet “Rwanda’s children” to discuss the situation of unaccompanied children during an armed conflict.

    Possible questions:

  • What precautions would you recommend taking in order to avoid as much as possible dilemmas such as the following:
  • In some countries where children had been evacuated, close or distant relatives turned up several years later asking for the children’s whereabouts and demanding that they be returned. In the host countries, where several children had been adopted in the meantime, some people said that the children had been well integrated into their new families and that it would be unwise to transfer them after they had become accustomed to their new life. Others said that international adoptions should not take place during times of war because it cannot be verified whether children have really been abandoned.

    5. Missing persons The anguish of families with no news of relatives who go missing during a conflict does not end when the guns fall silent. Are their loved ones wounded, imprisoned or dead?

    Possible questions:

  • What additional actions can be taken when, despite tracing efforts, no information has been gathered regarding missing persons? [See examples in teacher resources.]
  • Give reasons why it’s often so difficult to gather information about people who were missing during an armed conflict.

  • 5


    Read selected excerpts of articles of IHL from “Tracing and reuniting families the legal context” and have learners identify how they think the rules in the articles help the process of tracing and reuniting families.

    [For example: the authorities must cooperate with humanitarian organisations by providing all relevant information they have (for example, lists of detained persons), by letting the humanitarian workers investigate or distribute Red Cross messages; the captors must allow prisoners to correspond with their families]