The International Committee of the Red Cross says more than 48,000 people are missing across Africa, and at least 21,600 are minors.
Most of the registered disappearances — widely believed to be a fraction of the continent’s wider, undocumented humanitarian tragedy — are linked to armed conflict, violence, disasters and migration across the continent.
The International Committee of the Red Cross says the number of people coming forward to report missing persons is on the rise in Africa.
Amaya Fernandez, the humanitarian organization’s adviser on the missing and their families for Western Africa, says the cause of the increasing numbers is two-fold.
“On one hand, [it's] due to the fact we are trying to register more systematically cases of missing persons throughout the region. But also, certainly, [it's] due to the increased violence and conflict experienced on the continent, which increases at the same time the likelihood of people going missing. Looking at our figures, almost half of the missing persons have been recorded underage and most of them are men. Among the women ... we can see that the majority are minors,” she said.
The ICRC finding shows that 39,360 of the 48,000 missing people are from seven countries with armed conflicts.
According to the Stockholm International Peace and Research Institute, 20 countries in Africa have armed conflict. Out of the 20, 10 are witnessing high-intensity armed conflicts.
Fernandez says the ongoing conflict in some African countries has created more pain and suffering for families of missing persons.
“Humanitarian consequences... caused by protracted armed conflicts are often... reflected in most of the interviews. For instance, half of the families interviewed in Nigeria reported that their relatives had gone missing in 2014-2015. [In] South Sudan, [the] majority of the families were looking for people that went missing between 2013 and 2016. In Libya, families reported that they were looking for missing relatives from the late '70s until the present day, and the same goes for families in Ethiopia and Uganda,” she said.
Some experts see the need to train community workers and security agencies on the importance of information sharing to help locate missing persons.
Zimbabwe’s assistant police commissioner Crispen Lifa says his country and the region need a data management system to follow up on the missing person cases.
“There is a need to have a database which should be continuously updated so that all missing persons, and even those that are deceased... is captured in a database by police stations. At the end of the day, that information has to be put in place... [so] if you want to check across the country the number of missing persons, [you] would quickly get that information from a central point,” he said.
Fauziya Hussein's brother went missing in June after a Kenyan court released him.
The 39-year-old was accused of terrorism-related issues, but the court found him innocent and ordered the police to release him. His sister, Fauziya Hussein, says they never saw him again.
“I know they still have him. At every point [of his detention], my brother got a chance to make a phone call. He called my mother. So, if he was released, why didn’t he call my mother? So, I know for a fact they did not release him,” she said.
According to Hussein, police told her they released her brother.
The ICRC calls on African governments to prevent disappearances and help with search and identification, and addressing families’ needs.