To mark the International Day of Missing Persons 2022, the ICRC and National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in Europe are launching an online campaign called #NoTraceOfYou. Its aim is to raise public awareness of a largely unknown tragedy: migrants who go missing en route to Europe.
August 30, in honor of the families of the missing
Created in 1983, the International Day of Victims of Enforced Disappearances has since expanded to encompass all persons missing as a result of armed conflict or natural disaster. This now includes the thousands of migrants who go missing each year.
On August 30 of this year, we will honor the families of those who have passed away. These families find themselves, in the words of psychologist Pauline Boss, facing an “ambiguous loss”. “An ambiguous loss is what happens when someone disappears and their presence or absence cannot be clearly established,” she says. “If families have no official proof that their loved one is dead or alive, they cannot move on.”
Besides the pain of not knowing which only grows over the years without answers, these families often face many difficulties including psycho-social, administrative, legal and economic problems.
No trace of you: Thousands of migrants are missing on Europe’s roads
According to the International Organization for Migration, nearly 3,300 migrants went missing or died along migration routes to Europe in 2021. In reality, the number is much higher.
The #NoTraceOfYou campaign aims to raise awareness of a tragedy unfolding on our doorstep and the plight of families who suffer in silence, often alone. Many have seen images of lifeboats rescuing migrants on overcrowded and unseaworthy boats. But of the handful of people who are rescued, how many drown? Nobody knows.
Moreover, those who succeed are often unable to tell their family that they are doing well. Losing their cell phone, spending time in a detention center or seeing their own family on the move – these are just some of the reasons people lose touch.
How we help families in their search for answers
Families can wait – often for decades – to hear from their loved ones. But what can we do? The ICRC, with more than 150 years of humanitarian action to protect and assist people in need, knows this issue well. The same goes for National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, which help families find missing relatives through their restoring family links services.
In 2013, the ICRC and European National Red Cross Societies created Trace the Face, a tool specially designed to help families find their missing loved ones along the migration routes to Europe. On average, thanks to this tool, on average, a family finds a loved one every week.
Unfortunately of course, sometimes the person died. But according to an ICRC report, between 2014 and 2019, the bodies of only 13% of people recorded as lost at sea by the International Organization for Migration were found and buried in Italy, Spain or Greece.
Many bodies have still not been identified, leaving families in the dark. Proper and dignified care of deceased persons is essential to allow their identification and provide answers to families.
Thus, at the ICRC, we use forensic expertise to help the authorities identify the dead and/or locate their families. We also work to piece together tragic events, such as shipwrecks, drawing on a wide variety of information and sources to give families of missing persons the answers they need.
Wherever possible, the ICRC engages in dialogue with States to seek to prevent disappearances, put in place appropriate tracing processes and ensure dignified management of the dead, including identification procedures. On the International Day of Missing Persons, we remind States that it is above all their obligation to keep families informed of the fate of their loved ones.
More information on the #NoTraceOfYou campaign