The Hague, 20 August 2021 – The International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) today completed the first phase of a campaign to collect DNA samples from Syrian families living in Europe whose relatives have gone missing either in Syria as a result of the conflict, or along migration routes after fleeing the conflict.
From 29 July to 20 August, Syrian families in Germany and the Netherlands, who have missing relatives, were invited to provide genetic reference samples to assist in reuniting families and locating missing persons. The “Act in their Absence” campaign, supported by the German Federal Foreign Office and the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, is one element in a long-term missing persons process that ICMP is helping to establish. The process will endeavor to account for missing persons from the Syria conflict who are still alive as well as those who are deceased.
ICMP is collecting information on missing persons to establish an impartial, centralized repository that includes all cases related to the Syrian context, including persons suspected to be in detention. Reports are sought for all missing and disappeared persons regardless of their sectarian or national background, gender, ethnic or religious background, their role in the conflict, political affiliation, the circumstances of disappearance, or any other factor, including those believed to be alive and those feared dead.
During the “Act in their Absence” campaign, ICMP collected DNA samples from families of the missing in Berlin, Hamburg, Hannover, Leipzig, Dresden, Düsseldorf, Dortmund, Essen, Koln, Frankfurt, Stuttgart, Munich, Nootdrorp, Hillegom, Amsterdam, Utrecht, Hilversum and The Hague.
In addition to genetic sample collection, the campaign encouraged Europe-based Syrian families to report missing relatives using ICMP’s Online Inquiry Center (OIC). The OIC makes it possible to report a missing person online and follow progress on the reported case. Relatives can provide information about their relative and the circumstances of their disappearance if this is known. Information submitted to the OIC is protected under international law and is only shared with the express consent of those who provide it.
“This campaign is a key element in a process to account for the huge number of people who have gone missing as a result of the conflict in Syria,” ICMP Director-General Kathryne Bomberger said today. “This is not something that can be achieved overnight: it requires a sustained effort by Syrian stakeholders, including families of the missing, civil society organizations, and international stakeholders, including governments of countries where Syrians have found refuge. The important lesson from this successful data-collection exercise in the Netherlands and Germany is that a systematic approach can be implemented effectively. ICMP is grateful to the German and Swiss governments for their financial support for the campaign, and to the German and Dutch authorities for facilitating data collection among Syrian residents.”
Since the beginning of the Syrian conflict, more than 100,000 persons have gone missing, according to a 2021 UN report. Syrians and others have gone missing in the fighting and as victims of atrocities, human rights violations, enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention and other crimes. Many have also disappeared along migratory routes to Europe. While most Syrian refugees have sought protection in neighboring countries such as Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, and Egypt, about 1 million Syrian asylum seekers and refugees live in Europe.
So far, ICMP has received reports on almost 22,000 missing persons related to the Syrian context filed by 57,000 family members, either directly via the ICMP’s OIC or with support from civil society organizations that work with ICMP. In addition, ICMP’s repository also contains information about the location of more than 50 sites in Syria where missing persons may be located, including mass and clandestine graves.
ICMP’s broader efforts to address the issue of missing persons in the context of the Syrian conflict include facilitating dialogue among stakeholders, including a comprehensive policy process discussion, summarized in an October 2020 ICMP report. ICMP also facilitates the work of a Syrian Policy Coordination Group that is working to develop recommendations and a general policy framework on missing persons in Syria.
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 missing persons from conflict, human rights abuses, disasters, organized crime, irregular migration and other causes and to assist them in doing so. ICMP also supports the work of other organizations in their efforts, encourages public involvement in its activities and contributes to the development of appropriate expressions of commemoration and tribute to the missing. ICMP is the only international organization tasked exclusively to work on the issue of missing persons.