Estimates cited by the UN in 2019 indicate that over 100,000 persons are missing as a result of the current conflict in Syria. In addition, the country has a legacy of missing and disappeared persons cases linked to human rights abuses and other causes that occurred prior to the conflict. Syrians who have fled the fighting have also gone missing along migratory routes, in treacherous Mediterranean crossings or through criminal enterprises that prey upon migrants and refugees, including child trafficking in Europe and elsewhere. In addition, there are persons who are not Syrian missing in Syria, including journalists, ISIS fighters, combatants from foreign armies and others. And there are children living in detention centers whose parents – ISIS fighters and others – are missing.
In Syria itself, there are persons missing as a consequence of summary executions, arbitrary and incommunicado detention, kidnapping and abduction, as well as combatants and civilians missing as a direct result of fighting and the day-to-day ravages of war, and war crimes. In addition, since March 2011, more than 6.5 million have been displaced inside the country, and a further 5.6 million have fled Syria, seeking safety in Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan, Iraq, Europe and further afield, according to UNHCR data from 2018. This means that relatives of the missing may be living inside or outside of Syria.
ICMP’s Syria/MENA program is contributing to efforts to lay the basis for a future Syrian state that will take responsibility for accounting for all missing persons, regardless of their ethnic or religious background, their role in the conflict or their political affiliation, and for securing the rights to justice, truth and reparations of all missing persons’ families. The ICMP Syria/MENA program is being implemented in Syria, in neighboring countries among refugees, and along migratory routes.
ICMP, working together with Syrian civil society organizations (CSOs) and family associations, is focusing on steps that can be taken now to help find missing persons and secure the rights of families of the missing. The program aims to contribute to a missing persons process that is based on the rule of law and involves families in accounting for their missing relatives.
The ICMP Syria/MENA Program is working to:
- Establish the foundation for a missing persons database. A secure, centralized and impartial database trusted by all stakeholders is crucial for accounting for large numbers of missing persons. ICMP’s Identification Data Management System (iDMS) has a proven track record. Following the conflict in the former Yugoslavia, ICMP spearheaded an effort that has made it possible to account for more than 70 percent of the 40,000 people who went missing. Data uploaded to the iDMS can be used to form the basis of national central records of missing persons. ICMP, together with Syrian CSOs, families of the missing and other partners, is working to prepare for the future launch of such a system. A substantial number of Syrian missing persons cases have already been uploaded to the iDMS through ICMP’s Online Inquiry Center (OIC) or via CSOs. Improved documentation and data collection can support the inclusion of the missing persons issue in any future peace and reconciliation process and reduce the scope for false narratives or political manipulation of the missing persons issue.
- Foster and support cooperation among Syrian civil society organizations, including families of the missing, to strengthen their ability to influence peace negotiations and policymaking related to the missing. This includes providing platforms for CSO representatives to develop a common policy agenda on missing persons.
- Foster and support cooperation among states that host Syrian refugees and migrants, relevant institutions and others to allow refugees and migrants to report missing persons cases. This work is linked with ICMP’s Missing Migrants and Refugees Program, which seeks to foster cooperation among governments and others to address the issue of missing migrants and refugees.
- Strengthen the capacity of Syrian civil society organizations and families of the missing to participate in and influence the process of accounting for missing persons, including by ensuring that it is included in any future peace settlement. To this end, ICMP is providing comprehensive and continuous support to families of the missing, including opportunities for female-led CSOs and female leaders to exchange experiences and report missing persons through the OIC. ICMP is also providing seminars and consultations for organizations that inform families about their legal rights, the characteristics of a rule-of-law based missing persons process, and ICMP support. These events emphasize the crucial role played by families who provide information about their missing relatives. ICMP also supports CSO-led, peer-to-peer teaching on advocacy, visibility and other topics, and disburses small grants to family associations and CSOs that work to engage families and refugee communities in the missing persons process. As part of its capacity-building efforts, ICMP is training stakeholders in the forensic process to locate, recover and identify the missing.