Families of missing migrants, forced to search alone

29 September 2021

Urgent support is needed for tens of thousands of missing migrant families who are often forced to rely on smugglers and other informal networks, to trace loved ones, the International Organization for Migration's (IOM) said on Wednesday.

Despite human rights obligations, their perspectives are being ignored in government debates about safe migration. This results in persistent exclusion and marginalization, which has increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Smuggling investigations 

study by IOMs’ Global Migration Data Analysis Centre (GMDAC), found that authorities often frame missing migrant cases as investigations into migrant smuggling, rather than about the disappearance itself. 

Yet, families’ testimonies indicate the devastating psychological anguish, as well as legal, financial and administrative impacts of the disappearance of their relatives, the report said, highlighting the case of a farmer in Ethiopia whose missing sons had been his hope for the future. 

‘My life is becoming hell’ 

"They used to help me till and farm the land and now I am getting older and weaker and can’t work", he said. "I rely on my relatives for agricultural labour but my farm is ploughed late and cannot produce much. My life is becoming hell. I cannot even pay the moneylender.  My wife is already bedridden.”  

The report revealed how inequalities shaped by factors such as gender, age, class, race, and migration status impede search efforts

The Centre's Missing Migrants Project compiled the report based on research with 76 families of missing migrants in Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, Spain and the United Kingdom. 

IOM recommended that States and relevant international actors establish specific roadmaps for managing cases of missing migrants and also implement safe and accessible ways for families to report their missing relatives

 “The study aims to amplify the voices of people with loved ones missing on migration journeys, and to better understand their challenges,” Frank Laczko, GMDAC Director said. 

“Sharing these findings with the public is but a first step in improving the support mechanisms for migrants and the people they leave behind.”  

Missing migrants project 

The report and policy briefing are part of the project, Assessment of the needs of families searching for relatives lost in the Central and Western Mediterranean, funded by the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs. 

A revamped Missing Migrants Project website now includes the project’s country reports and final report, as well as other resources to learn more about the experiences of families of missing migrants. 

 

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