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Support Needed For Families of Missing Migrants: Evidence from IOM’s Project “Assessing the Needs of Families Searching for Relatives Lost in the Central and Western Mediterranean” - Policy Briefing

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  • Tens of thousands of people worldwide live with the pain and uncertainty of not knowing the fate of their relatives and loved ones who have gone missing or died during migration journeys around the world.

  • In addition to the emotional toll, people’s lives may be forever harmed by the psychosocial, legal and financial impacts related to the disappearance of their relatives. The community-wide and multi-generational trauma of unresolved disappearances, whether that is due to war and conflict, displacement or migration, has also been documented.

  • Families of missing migrants have little visibility. Their experiences are often ignored and they lack access to adequate services and support. Besides the moral imperative to support them, States also have international obligations and commitments to the families of missing migrants. Notably:

» Under international human rights law (IHRL), States are bound by the obligation to uphold the right to life, which includes the right for all people to be treated with dignity after death and mandates all States to effectively investigate deaths when their cause is uncertain, to identify the deceased, and to provide information to their families (and to do this in a non-discriminatory manner, irrespective of the victim’s race, ethnicity, national origin, gender or other status). This procedural obligation also exists when people go missing in life-threatening circumstances.
Families have a right to participate in investigations, as part of the State’s procedural obligation to protect the right to life. More generally, they have a right to know the fate and whereabouts of their missing relatives, with corresponding rights under international humanitarian law (the “right to know”) and under international human rights law (the “right to truth”).

» Objective 8 of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM) urges States to “assum[e] collective responsibility to preserve the lives of all migrants, in accordance with international law…[and to] commit to identify those who have died or gone missing, and to facilitate communication with affected families”.

» Sustainable Development Goal 10.7 calls on States to facilitate orderly, safe, and responsible migration and mobility of people, including through the implementation of planned and well-managed migration policies. This commitment includes that States report on deaths and disappearances during migration in their territory, as one indicator of (un) safe migration (SDG 10.7.3).

  • This policy briefing proposes ten recommendations that States, regional organizations, inter-governmental organizations and civil society can take to better support families of missing migrants. These are informed by a research project carried out by a team of researchers coordinated by IOM’s Missing Migrants Project, based at the Global Migration Data Analysis Centre (GMDAC), and are in-line with the actions recommended in the GCM.


“Assessing the Needs of Families Searching for Relatives Lost in the Central and Western Mediterranean” was a qualitative research project carried out between April 2019 and March 2021 in Ethiopia, the United Kingdom, Spain and Zimbabwe. With support from the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, it was coordinated by IOM’s Missing Migrants Project at the Global Migration Data Analysis Centre (GMDAC) and conducted by a team of researchers who interviewed 76 families of missing migrants and over 30 key stakeholders. The project aimed to provide a better understanding of the challenges faced by families searching for loved ones who have gone missing on migration journeys. It also sought to amplify their voices and to identify how they could be better supported in their search for information and with coping with the impacts of loss. The Missing Migrants Project’s website ( includes the project’s reports, as well as other resources to learn about the experiences of families of missing migrants. It also has information on relevant NGOs and other actors that may be helpful to those searching for missing loved ones.