New Study Examines Challenges Facing Families of Missing Migrants in the UK

When a person goes missing, the existing laws, procedures and inter-state cooperation enable families to make the necessary arrangements and reach closure about the loss of their loved ones.

A new report from the International Organization of Migration (IOM)’s Global Migration Data Analysis Centre and Missing Migrants Project shows this is not the case for people across the United Kingdom who have missing migrant relatives.

“The families who participated in the research in the UK are some of the tens of thousands of people living worldwide with the pain of not knowing the fate of their loved ones who went missing or died during migration journeys,” said Frank Laczko, Director of IOM’s Global Migration Data Analysis Centre (GMDAC) in Berlin.

Over the past two years, IOM GMDAC has carried out qualitative research funded by Switzerland’s Federal Department of Foreign Affairs with families searching for missing migrants in several countries. The twin aims of the research are to amplify the voices of the families of missing migrants and develop a series of recommendations to drive action to support them.

This new report shows that cases of missing migrants in the UK extend far beyond the English Channel.

Nearly 300 people are known to have died since 1999 along the northern coast of France, Belgium and the Netherlands, in the English Channel or shortly after crossing into the United Kingdom, according to records collected by IOM’s Missing Migrants Project and the Institute of Race Relations. But the number of missing migrants en route to the UK is likely to be much higher. Many of the families involved in the research did not know the whereabouts or fate of their relatives in the Mediterranean Sea crossing and elsewhere.

“Besides the emotional toll, we know that the lives of people related to missing migrants may be forever marked by the many psychosocial, legal and financial impacts,” said Dipti Pardeshi, Chief of Mission of IOM in the UK.

“When I came here… I would cry every morning… I was crying over my loss and also because the future was uncertain then. I did not know what was going to happen,” said Emeka, a Nigerian woman living in the UK who is looking for her husband.

“I didn’t know if I would get residence here, or if I was going to be deported. That was what I was facing then apart from the loss of family,” she continued.

With the exception of the tracing service offered by the British Red Cross and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), in the United Kingdom there are no agencies or policies specifically dedicated to help report, locate or identify cases involving migrants who went missing while in transit to the country. As a result, families primarily seek information about the missing and rely on support from informal channels and networks, members of the diaspora abroad, and community-based associations.

The research, carried out in collaboration with Dr. Samuel Okyere at the University of Bristol and IOM UK, found that families of missing migrants in the UK may be migrants themselves with fears that searching for their loved ones could lead to being prosecuted due to their uncertain immigration status.

IOM calls for action in the UK, and elsewhere, to support these families. Objective 8 of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM) specifically calls on states to identify those who have died or gone missing, and to facilitate communication with affected families. The report includes 10 recommendations for how families of missing migrants in the UK can be better supported to trace their relatives and to cope with the impacts of loss.