Staff members of the International Commission on Missing Persons for the former Yugoslavia (ICMP) will be in Chicago for a week from Saturday 15th February, to take part in the annual Convention of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS). The ICMP team members will be presenting 18 papers at the Convention, considerably more than any one organisation has ever presented in the past – 7 being the previous best.Chicago is now home to around 50,000 people whose families originated in the former Yugoslavia, many of whom have loved ones missing after the recent Balkan conflicts. ICMP will give these families the opportunity to take part in their advanced DNA analysis program, which is now identifying up to 250 people per month. This program matches DNA samples taken from recovered mortal remains with those from blood samples donated by family members of the missing. To date, over 1600 people have been identified in this way, allowing their remains to be returned to their families for dignified burial at last.
Despite publicity in the Balkan region, ICMP currently has over 3,700 DNA profiles from recovered remains, for which there is no match from living family members. The family meetings in the Chicago area are the first attempts to reach families now living overseas, in the hope that blood collections will result in more identifications. ICMP hopes that parents, children and siblings of the missing will come to their meetings, as the closer the relationship the easier it is to find a match. People should also bring as much information as they can about their loved one, such as age, height and physical appearance, also details of last known sightings and clothing worn.
Gordon Bacon, Chief of Staff of ICMP, who will be leading the team in Chicago, said, “We realize how distressful this process can be for families. However we hope that we can bring some kind of resolution by offering the chance to say goodbye, and the dignity of a burial with a named grave where people can mourn properly. For families there is nothing worse than not knowing where their loved ones are”.
Following the week in Chicago the team will move on to St Louis for a short pilot program there. Other visits may follow, to other US cities where there is a large population originating in the Balkans.