44,000 people registered as missing in Africa amid Covid-19 curbs

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said it has registered nearly 44,000 people as missing in Africa with nearly half of them children, amid the restrictions imposed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

In a statement on Wednesday, the ICRC said Nigeria, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Somalia, Libya, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Cameroon make up for 82 per cent of the agency’s missing caseload in the continent, reports Xinhua news agency.

Sophie Marsac, regional advisor for the missing and their families in Africa for the ICRC, said the development came at a time when the ongoing restrictions have posed as new challenges in the search for missing people

“This caseload is a drop in the ocean to the true scale of people whose family members are searching for them,” Marsac said in a statement issued in Nairobi ahead of the International Day of the Disappeared on August 30.

“Conflict, violence, migration, and climate shocks have not stopped separating families in the pandemic, but our work to find missing people has become even harder,” she said.

The worst-hit country is Nigeria with nearly 23,000 missing people, almost entirely due to the conflict in the northeast of the country.

“All seven countries have seen a rise in the number of people registered with the ICRC as missing in the first half of 2020,” the statement said.

“Many countries suspended domestic travel between states or provinces, making it more difficult for searches to be done over wider geographic areas.

“Access to places of detention, where the ICRC would look for cases, is suspended in some places to limit the risk of Covid-19 exposure,” it added.

The ICRC called on authorities to acknowledge the tragedy of missing people and the impact that it has on families and to do everything in their power to prevent people from disappearing and to provide information to families on the fate and whereabouts of their loved ones.

“International Day of the Disappeared should remind us that an untold number of families in Africa are searching for a loved one, many of them parents looking for a child,” said Marsac.

“Families of the missing often suffer psychologically and face economic and legal challenges. The tragedy of missing people is a humanitarian crisis and one that cannot be forgotten as the world focuses on fighting the Covid-19 pandemic,” she added.