163 people from Bosnia and Hercegovina now living in Chicago and St Louis gave blood samples last week, hoping to find their missing loved ones.The International Commission on Missing Persons’ mission to Chicago, which was primarily to attend the convention of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences was a great success. The 17 presentations made by its scientists and managers has put the ICMP firmly among world leaders in both traditional forensic techniques and DNA analysis. According to Ed Huffine, Director of the DNA programme:
” We were asked if we would share the DNA testing procedures that we have developed and we will. The international forensic community is now aware of ICMP's staff, accomplishments and standards.”
But the trip achieved much more. Bosnian and Hercegovinan communities took advantage of the ICMP presence to ask if their members could donate blood samples to be added to the DNA database. Every evening there was a line of families waiting to tell their stories and give a sample. People from Srebrenica, Prijedor, Vlasenica and other towns and villages came from all around the Chicago area, and beyond, with two families travelling over eight hours each way through appalling weather to come from Canada. When the ICMP team heard that a busload of people planned to travel from St Louis in order to take part, they agreed to extend their trip by one day in order to go to this mid-West city, now home to over 40,000 people from former Yugoslavia. This special visit resulted in 56 blood samples and a ray of hope for families.
This was the first time that ICMP have taken blood samples outside the Balkan region, and they hope to do more in the future, taking in the European Union, the USA, Canada, Australia, Switzerland and Norway. Gordon Bacon, ICMP Chief of Staff, had this to say:
“We are very grateful to those community leaders and media, both in America and BiH, who helped us in this pilot project. We now know the need is there. We hope that in future funds will permit us to extend our activities to include families who have left the region but who want to know what happened to their loved ones.”
ICMP have also set up contacts with local doctors and the American Red Cross who will offer a future facility for blood sample donations in their local communities.