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If you’ve come to this page, the State Department has informed you that your loved one has been determined to be wrongfully detained.

You are in an unexpected and extraordinarily stressful situation. You are trying to understand the circumstances of your loved one’s wrongful detention, identify people and institutions who can help, and understand possible actions you and your advocates can take to resolve this crisis. You want to have the confidence you and your government are doing everything possible to secure your loved one’s release and safe return home.

To guide your actions as you work with the U.S. government to secure the release of your loved one, it may be helpful for you to understand what options are available. It is important you ask all the questions you need to ask and get clear and timely answers whenever possible.

The U.S. government is your partner in the effort to reunite you with your loved one. U.S. officials responding to your loved one’s wrongful detention will be as open and straightforward about the situation as possible. This resource guide is a key part of that communication. This guide is a starting point both to help you understand what is involved in responding to your loved one’s wrongful detention and to prepare you for some of the challenges that may lie ahead.

Because each wrongful detention is different and each family has unique needs and individual concerns that require a tailored approach, this guide provides information for a broad range of individuals and families. The information in this guide is especially relevant for long-term detention situations, with a focus on the importance of considering and implementing different approaches at different points in time. This guide also contains information that may be useful in helping you and your family cope with some of the aspects of the ordeal.

In writing this guide, we have consulted with families who have walked this path before you and sought input from third party intermediaries and organizations that work with wrongful detainees and their families. Although the guide is not intended to address every possible situation, we hope the incorporation of a wide range of observations and insights will make it a valuable resource as your family navigates this process.

You can download a PDF version of the guide, alternatively, you can view each section on our website by navigating through the pages below.

Your U.S. Government Team

The goal of the U.S. government is to obtain the release and safe return of your wrongfully detained loved one. Multiple agencies with different but complementary missions, powers, and capabilities will work in a coordinated effort to achieve this result. The U.S. government is also committed to ensuring families receive timely and ongoing communication, support, and access to available assistance and resources.

U.S. Government Response to Wrongful Detention

The first U.S. government official to reach out to your loved one overseas will likely be a consular official from the U.S. embassy or consulate representing the consular district where your loved one was arrested. Consular staff have the primary responsibility for the protection of U.S. nationals abroad. The immediate consular priority overseas is to ensure that detained U.S. nationals have access to a consular official and are treated in accordance with the law, including human rights law.

Coping as an Individual and as a Family

Taking care of yourself will put you in the best position to advocate for your loved one and receive them upon their release. It is important to maintain as much normalcy and routine as possible, and to pay attention to your physical and emotional needs while your loved one is detained. Surround yourself with people who are good for you and avoid those who are not. Find someone you trust to listen when you need to talk things over.

Legal and Financial Considerations

The wrongful detention of a loved one can have a significant impact on the legal and financial situation of a family, especially if the detainee provides the primary source of income or is an adult child who has their own financial obligations. Families of adult children where there is no spouse may be concerned about protecting the assets and covering the financial liabilities of the detainee. There are a variety of issues to consider, but there are also sources of information and support to help you cope.

Working with Congress

Your congressional representatives may be great allies in the effort to secure your loved one’s release. They may support your loved one through advocating with government agencies, passing laws and resolutions which may advance your loved one’s case, issuing media statements, reaching out to their contacts both in the United States and overseas, and using their influence and resources. Below is more information regarding congressional engagement.

Working with the Media

“The media” comprise journalists representing local, national, and foreign print and broadcast outlets. As businesses, media outlets typically attract consumers (and income) by being the first to “break” a story, and reporting on wrongful detentions can be more compelling if the journalist is able to get a quote from a detainee’s family member or otherwise show a personal connection. Ultimately, the decision to communicate directly with the press rests with you and your family. Media coverage can help spread information about your loved one. The outlet’s story may match the story you and your family wish to share, but if it does not, it can complicate your efforts to clearly communicate your desired message.

After Detention

The impact of a wrongful detention does not end with the return of your loved one. It is important to understand it may take time for your loved one to adjust once he or she is home, especially after a prolonged detention in a foreign country. Detainees and their families tend to adapt and sustain themselves during the detention period. It can take time for both the detainee and the family members to re-acclimate to a normal routine back home. Your loved one may need time to rest and to tell his or her story in his or her own way and time.

Summary of Assistance Resources

Non-profit or private organizations or individuals may be able to provide important services to wrongful detainees, former wrongful detainees, and/or families of detainees and former detainees. As a starting point for building your networks and identifying available resources, we are providing descriptions of possible support options below. If you feel you need any of the services listed below, please speak with your Family Engagement Team and we can provide you a list of organizations or private intermediaries outside the federal government that have offered particular resources to families, usually on a pro bono basis, in the past.

Actions to Consider

Each wrongful detention is different, and your Family Engagement Team will be with you as long as your loved one remains wrongfully detained. Below is a non-exhaustive list of actions to consider taking as you work with your partners inside and outside the U.S. government to secure your loved one’s release. This list comes in part from the experiences of and feedback from of families of other wrongfully detained U.S. nationals. Please review and consider which actions might be appropriate for your situation. If you have questions or need additional information, you can always reach out to your Family Engagement Team for explanations or additional resources.

U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future