Saleh in front of Red Cross flag

When Libya descended into war in 2011, Saleh lost his wife and his best friend.

Several years later he got a call that would change his life forever.

When the bombs began to fall, Saleh took shelter at the factory where he worked.

His best friend Youssef was not at work that day.

But Youssef was afraid for his friend’s safety.  Youssef came to the factory to rescue Saleh. Tragically, Youssef was caught in the raid and died.

Saleh’s wife Nafisa heard about Youssef’s death. She was sure that Saleh must have met the same fate as his friend. She fled as rumours circulated the village that hundreds of young girls had already been kidnapped.

Meanwhile, Saleh buried his friend. He blamed himself for Youssef’s death.

“In all these years for me this is what I cannot forget. I will never be able to forget Youssef,” said Saleh.

Saleh made sure his family reached a safe haven in the south of the country, but he could not find his wife. He left his family and returned home to look for Nafisa. The fighting raged around him as he looked. He couldn’t find her.

Fearing the worst, and with his life in danger, Saleh made the difficult decision to flee on a boat bound for Italy.

A long history of family tracing

Eventually Saleh was directed to the Red Cross to search for his wife. He was anxious to learn Nafisa’s fate.

Family tracing with the Red Cross is unique, in that it relies on our global network of Red Cross/Red Crescent societies in 190 countries. Relationships between societies are strong and each can access vital information within their own countries.

It’s also well established. During the Second World War the Red Cross gathered information about prisoners of war and forwarded more than 20 million letters and cards addressed to prisoners.

Since then, tracing people separated by conflict, disaster and migration has become an essential part of Red Cross work. At any one time our teams are helping around 2,500 people.

In Saleh’s case, he didn’t even know whether Nafisa was still alive or which country she might be in. After months of looking, with such little information to go on, traditional methods weren’t working.

But all was not lost.

Trace the Face

Trace the Face is a unique online tracing tool for those who have lost the ones they love.

On the website, people who are looking for missing loved ones can publish a photo of themselves. They hope their family will recognise them and use the Red Cross to get back in touch.

At first Saleh was reluctant to try and use Trace the Face in case the authorities in Libya found him.

Over time though, Saleh became good friends with Waleed, our international family tracing co-ordinator. It was Waleed who persuaded Saleh to give it a go.

There are currently over 850 pictures of people looking for their family on the website. You can search by gender, age and country of origin. Photos are also hung in Red Cross offices and places where refugees gather all around Europe.

The only information published is your photo, along with who you are looking for. All other information, including your name and your location, remains confidential.

An amazing surprise

In Saleh’s case, he was about to get a call that would change his life forever.

“After six months I got a message,” Saleh said.

“I called the number and I heard an accent – a Libyan accent. You know Arabic has different accents.

“It was Nafisa and she recognised me. And I swear to God I wouldn’t believe it. So I asked a few questions just to check. And after I was sure it was her.

“What with everything that happened – leaving and the war – it just made her grow up.

“She was crying, poor girl. It was an amazing surprise.

“If I knew that Trace the Face was going to help I would have put my picture on it as soon as I could. We lost two years because we didn’t know about it.”

Filled with hope

With the Red Cross’ help, Saleh is busy working on his family reunion application. After four years apart, he is now filled with hope that Nafisa can come and live with him in Plymouth.

Saleh has also recently visited Nafisa in Sudan, where she is now living. They have lodged their application for family reunion with the British embassy there.

Saleh again:

“It’s difficult to have hopes for the future. I might die tomorrow or something might happen to me. It is already written. However, if I can hope, I would like Libya to go back to being a safe country and for me to go back.

“Through Trace the Face lots of people can find answers to their questions. I am hugely grateful to God and to the Red Cross for all the work they have done.

“Lots of people don’t know what the Red Cross does and I was one of them. And I think it’s very important for them to know what you do.”