ICMP Brings International Organizations And European Countries Together to Enhance Cooperation in Accounting for Missing Migrants

Rome, 12 June 2018: The International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) convened a meeting in Rome on Monday afternoon to ensure cooperation between international organizations and European countries in addressing the issue of missing Mediterranean migrants.

The roundtable with international organizations followed a meeting earlier in the day at which government representatives from Cyprus, Greece, Italy and Malta asserted their intention to develop a Joint Process to coordinate efforts to address this issue. The government representatives agreed that ICMP would help facilitate this process.

Representatives from the International Organization for Migration (IOM), Frontex, Interpol, Europol, OHCHR, the European Network of Forensic Science Institutes (ENFSI), and the ICRC participated in the roundtable, which was designed to ensure that the Mediterranean countries receive support in addressing this issue.

The issue of missing migrants concerns those who have died as well those who have disappeared but who may still be alive.  In 2017, more than 17,000 unaccompanied children reached Europe. Most of these children arrived by sea to Italy, where 13 percent of all arrivals were children traveling on their own. European governments have reported that migrants, and especially child migrants, have disappeared in significant numbers after their arrival in host countries.

While numbers of migrant arrivals in Europe have fallen in 2018, the mortality rate among migrants remains disproportionately high. UNHCR reports that one in every 14 people has died this year crossing the sea from Libya to Italy, compared to one in 29 people for the same period in 2017. In October 2017, the IOM indicated the likelihood that the number of migrants dying en route from Sub Saharan Africa to the Mediterranean coast was at least double the number who were drowned during the actual crossing. IOM estimates that migrants traveling through the central Mediterranean are coming from 65 different countries.

Governments are obliged under international and domestic law to help families of the missing account for their relatives. An inability to do so constitutes a standing breach of the rule of law. This is compounded by the relative impunity with which human traffickers have been able to capitalize, in the most brutal way, on the wave of migrants fleeing violence and instability in the Middle East and large parts of Africa.

Since the beginning of 2016, working with other agencies, ICMP has gathered evidence showing that capacities do exist in the Mediterranean that would help governments to address the issue of missing migrants more effectively. ICMP is proposing, therefore, that countries in the region assess capacities – in terms of records and databases, for example – and examine how this can be shared.

As UNICEF noted in a statement to the roundtable, “while IOM, UNHCR and other agencies have started recording fatalities at sea, data is rarely disaggregated by age and gender. Information on those who have gone missing but are possibly still alive, is even harder to track.”

“Italy, Cyprus, Greece, Malta and other countries are on the frontline in tackling this complex challenge and even though they have developed strategies to address the issue, the numbers of missing, coupled with the large number of countries of origin necessitate international support,” ICMP Commissioner Knut Vollebaek said during the roundtable. “We should think in terms of supporting these strategies and finding ways of reducing the burden already being carried by these countries. We can move forward by proposing realistic ways in which the willingness of governments to share capacities and coordinate action can be made operational.”

ICMP Chairman Thomas Miller noted that the discussion earlier in the day had “produced a broad degree of consensus”, and that “this consensus can be turned into the basis for coordinated action.” He said ICMP, which will provide the Joint Process with a secretariat and other support, would seek to ensure that proposals and conclusions from international organizations “are fed into the broader discussion.”

ICMP is a treaty-based international organization with headquarters in The Hague. 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.