Swiss help trace missing loved ones

by Susan Vogel-Misicka,

War, natural disasters, migration, personal conflicts: the reasons why families and friends are torn apart are myriad.

The tracing services department of the Swiss Red Cross helps people living in Switzerland to find missing loved ones all over the world. Each year, the Bern-based office handles hundreds of cases.

In 2010, nearly half of those cases involved political unrest or natural catastrophes. About a quarter were the result of migration issues; the balance were more personal in nature.

“The trust people give us is impressive. I used to do government-organised social work, where it took maybe half a year to build a good relationship with the people I was counselling. And here you’re a member of the family within five minutes,” said Nicole Windlin, head of tracing services at the Swiss Red Cross.

“This is really nice in one way, but it’s difficult because you cannot be a member of 500 families every year. In this situation you are often a symbol – a contact to the missing person,” Windlin told

Flexibility is key
Windlin, who took the job three years ago, works within a team of four people. She says she and her colleagues need good listening and language skills, as well as an interest in current affairs. A flexible way of thinking is also important – especially when asking clients for information considered basic by Swiss standards.

“You might expect to get a name and a date and place of birth, but sometimes people come in and they don’t even know the family name of their spouse,” Windlin explained, “Maybe they don’t have an address – they say ‘the second tree after the fountain’ – so it’s completely different.” READ MORE ON SWISS INFO

Nicole Windlin on duty in Tunisia (Suchdienst SRK)

Categories: Human Rights, Switzerland

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