Posted on 18 August 2015
The deaths of migrants and refugees seeking to enter the EU along its Mediterranean frontier constitute an unprecedented humanitarian crisis. A second crisis underlies these deaths however: for every body found at the EU's southern border, and for those lost at sea, there is a family awaiting news of their loved one. The missing are defined by the fact families have no news of a migrant's fate. Missing migrants thus include those whose bodies are never found, and those whose bodies are found but never identified: for families the fate of all remains unknown. The response of the EU and its member states however continues to largely deny their responsibility to manage both bodies and data in ways that permit the identification of the dead and the rights of families to know.
The Missing Migrants project, a one year research study funded by the ESRC, seeks to shed light on the policy vacuum that exists at national and EU levels by exploring the procedures and practices adopted by authorities in investigating, identifying, burying and repatriating the remains of migrants, and understanding the needs of families of missing migrants in countries of origin. This work will build on existing studies on the Greek island of Lesbos and on the Italian island of Lampedusa. In parallel, the study will engage with families in areas affected by large-scale migration (Tunisia, and Syrian refugee communities) through a multi-sited ethnography that seeks to understand the needs of families of missing migrants. The project will draw insights from the management of the problem of the missing and disappeared in post-conflict settings to offer policy recommendations regarding effective practices of identification of human remains and policies to address the needs of families.
The Missing Migrants project represents a collaboration between UK academics, at the CAHR in York and the Institute for the Study of Conflict Transformation and Social Justice at Queen's University, Belfast, at the forefront of work on the issue of missing persons arising from both conflict and migration, and the leading inter-governmental organisation working on the issue, the International Organization for Migration (IOM).
Image: Grave of an unidentified migrant in the cemetery of Lesbos. The marker reads: 'Afghan, 3-10-07, No.1' (photo taken July 2013).