14 December 2016: The International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) have convened an Inter-Agency Roundtable on processing and managing data relevant to finding missing refugees and migrants. The day-long event held at ICMP’s headquarters in The Hague on 9 December, brought together a number of agencies and government representatives.
The meeting addressed current provisions for processing and managing data on missing refugees and migrants, and provisions for improved data collection, sharing, analysis and mechanisms to help resolve the fate of the missing. During the meeting, it was stressed that addressing the issue of refugees and migrants who go missing requires the cooperation of international and national organizations as well as states. While some organizations collect data on migrant fatalities, there is less focus on information that can be used to help families find their missing loved ones. Due in part to the large number of migrant deaths, current identification processes lack standardization and coordination.
The IOM reports that as of 13 December, 4,732 irregular migrants have been drowned or have gone missing trying to cross the Mediterranean in 2016, compared to 3,601 in the whole of 2015. There are no complete figures on migrant fatalities on routes from sub-Saharan Africa to the Mediterranean coast, but the number who perish at the hands of people traffickers or because of harsh terrain may exceed maritime deaths. At the same time, large numbers go missing on migration routes in South Asia and between South and North America.
ICMP’s Identification Data Management System (iDMS) makes it possible to collect, store, and share personal data on missing persons efficiently and securely. This is central to the process of locating and identifying the large numbers of persons who are missing as a result of migration. The iDMS makes it possible to bring together all of the disparate elements in investigations that span different countries and continents, different time periods and different social, cultural and legal environments. It is accessible from anywhere in the world via the Online Inquiry Center (OIC). Currently, the OIC can be accessed in English, Arabic, Spanish, Albanian, and Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian. ICMP plans to add more languages in due course.
“We believe that the iDMS and the OIC can play a key role in a coordinated inter-agency response to the migration crisis,” ICMP Director- General Kathryne Bomberger told at the roundtable in The Hague. “Data systems can help national and international agencies and families of the missing in countries neighboring conflict areas such as Iraq and Syria, as well as helping European authorities to identify the remains of drowned migrants, and migrants who go missing after their arrival in Europe.”
In addition to ICMP and IOM, presentations at the inter-agency conference were given by representatives of INTERPOL, Europol, the International Criminal Court, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the European Union’s Judicial Cooperation Unit (EUROJUST), and the European Commission. H.E. Ambassador van der Werff, representing the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, provided a key-note address.
ICMP was created at the 1996 G-7 Summit to address the issue of persons missing as a consequence of the conflicts in the Western Balkans. It spearheaded an effort that made it possible to account for more than 70 percent of the 40,000 missing persons. Starting in 2004, ICMP began working globally. In 2014, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Sweden and Luxembourg signed an international agreement establishing ICMP as an intergovernmental organization with headquarters in The Hague to respond to the global challenge of missing persons. Today, ICMP is active throughout the world, exercising a mandate to secure the cooperation of governments and others in locating and identifying missing persons from conflict, migration, human rights abuses, disasters, crime and other causes, working with governments to establish legal frameworks, technical capacity and social consensus that makes it possible to launch and sustain effective strategies to account for the missing.
Established in 1951, IOM is the leading inter-governmental organization in the field of migration and works closely with governmental, intergovernmental and non-governmental partners. With 165 member states, a further eight states holding observer status and offices in over 100 countries, IOM is dedicated to promoting humane and orderly migration for the benefit of all. It does so by providing services and advice to governments and migrants.
In March 2013, ICMP and IOM concluded a cooperation agreement focusing on joint efforts to address the issue of missing persons from migration, displacement, human trafficking, and other causes.