The Mediterranean Missing project was a one year research project running from September 2015 until October 2016, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council of the United Kingdom. The project was a collaboration between the University of York, City University London, and the International Organization for Migration, and one of the first efforts to systematically collect data and comparatively explore current responses to migrant bodies in the Mediterranean, and the impacts of a missing person on families left behind. For more about the project see here.
Project findings have been published in a range of reports and launched in public meetings in Italy, Greece and Turkey. Copies of all reports can be found here. Any follow-up project will be announced here.
Following the project’s call for legal principles to guide states’ actions, the Last Rights project, has set out the operational principles, based in human rights law, which should inform states’ policies towards missing migrants: “The Dead, the Missing and the Bereaved at Europe’s International Borders: Proposal for a Statement of the International legal obligations of States” This statement summarises the legal standards which apply to missing migrants, and the rights of their families.
In September 2017 The UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, arbitrary or summary executions prepared a report to the UN General Assembly on the ‘Unlawful Death of Migrants and Refugees’. The Rapporteur calls for states to protect the lives of migrants and refugees as part of their commitment to the new Global Compact for Migrants and Refugees, and makes a number of important recommendations to states – including an international mechanism for search, identification and tracing, investigation by states and the recording of deaths, dignified treatment of the dead, common forensic protocols, and access to justice for families.
The project film
A film commissioned by the project and made by Dimitris Achlioptas in Lesbos is available online. This seeks to be an advocacy tool to disseminate the challenge of missing migrants in the Mediterranean.
Full versions are below:
- Mediterranean Missing: English
- Mediterranean Missing: Arabic subtitles
- Mediterranean Missing: Italian subtitles
A summary of the project findings
The Mediterranean Missing research project has sought to understand both the impact on families of having a relative missing in migration, and the law, policy and practice around the identification of bodies of dead migrants in Italy and Greece. Interviews with families of missing migrants from five countries confirmed the huge impact of not knowing the fate of loved ones, with families tortured by ambiguity and suffering a range of emotional and psychological consequences. In Lesbos, Greece, and Sicily, Italy, interviews with authorities, civil society and others confirm the presence of a policy vacuum around the issue of the missing, despite the duties on states imposed by human rights law. Investigation of deaths is inadequate, with effective post-mortem data collection and management challenged by the huge numbers of migrants, in some cases sufficiently to compromise future identification. In both Greece and Italy, response is characterised by a policy vacuum, with a large number of agencies with overlapping mandates lacking coordination. Whilst in Italy a dedicated Commission and its partners have demonstrated what can be done with appropriate resources, there is a need to ensure that all the dead benefit from such an approach. A constraint in both contexts remains the lack of outreach to families of the missing, who can provide ante-mortem data to enable identification, and who should anyway be at the centre of all efforts to address the issue and identify the dead.