An Effective Approach To the Issue of Missing Migrants

The Hague, 21 February 2019: At a workshop organized in Malta today by the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP), in cooperation with Missing People UK, participants noted that states in the Mediterranean have the means to account for large numbers of missing migrants and refugees, and can do this effectively if they adopt a pragmatic and systematic approach.

The workshop, entitled “Accounting for the Missing Is an Investment in Peace”, included testimony from individuals who have travelled on migration routes and who have experienced at first hand the disappearance of a loved one on their journey. It was part of the “Lost in Migration” conference organized by the President’s Foundation for the Well-being of Society and the NGO Missing Children Europe.

“Families of the missing are always the center, and often at the forefront of the process of accounting for missing persons, and therefore any civil society organizations that host unaccompanied children should establish a channel of communication to enable the families to be engaged,” said ICMP Civil Society Initiatives Program Officer Goran Batic, who moderated today’s discussion.

“Families deserve to get closure, and only with the assistance of the authorities can this be achieved,” said Meron Estefanos, Co-founder of the International Commission on Eritrean Refugees.  “The pain of the family does not go away until they know what happened to their missing children.”

Walid Khalil Murad, a refugee from Sinjar in Iraq, who lost members of his immediate family when the boat he was traveling in from Turkey to Greece capsized, made a direct plea for assistance in discovering the fate of his family members. “I need to know whether my children are alive or dead,” he said. “I gave all the information to the authorities about my sons but they said that since they didn’t go missing in the country, the authorities cannot intervene to assist me.”

This was echoed by other workshop participants. “The fact that I did not see the bodies, makes me wonder if they were helped or rescued, or if they died. All I ask for is for the authorities to assist me in accounting for my missing family members,” said Kazem Othman from Syria, whose son and nephew, among other family members, went missing between Turkey and Greece.

“The number of missing unaccompanied and trafficked children in the United Kingdom, and the issues around the data available represent serious safeguarding failures,” said Jane Hunter, Senior Research and Impact Manager at Missing People (UK). “This is the case within the UK and across borders, and much more should be done to better support these children and their families.”

ICMP Missing Migrants Program Manager Alessandra La Vaccara stressed that, “The missing migrants issue goes beyond borders,” and she noted that while organizations such as ICMP that can assist States in addressing this issue, “it is the obligation of the state to account for the missing.”

ICMP is coordinating a Joint Process, launched in Rome in June 2018, under which Cyprus, Greece, Malta and Italy are cooperating to identify the areas where they can avoid duplicating effort and resources and coordinate their activities so as to account for missing migrants more effectively. Creating and operating an effective program to account for tens of thousands of people is challenging, but it can be done. ICMP established such a program after the conflict in the former Yugoslavia, where it has been possible to account for well over 70 percent of the 40,000 people who went missing during the conflict.

ICMP is a treaty-based intergovernmental organization with Headquarters in The Hague, the Netherlands. Its mandate is to secure the cooperation of governments and others in locating and identifying missing persons from conflict, human rights abuses, disasters, organized crime, irregular migration and other causes and to assist them in doing so. It is the only international organization tasked exclusively to work on the issue of missing persons.