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28 Sep 2021

Families of Missing Migrants: Their Search for Answers and the Impacts of Loss

Lessons Across Four Countries
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This report synthesizes the main findings of qualitative research conducted between April 2019 and March 2021 by IOM’s Missing Migrants Project about the challenges and experiences of families of missing migrants in Ethiopia, the United Kingdom, Spain and Zimbabwe. Across the four countries, 76 families with missing relatives and over 30 stakeholders (including non-governmental organizations, activists, government authorities, international organizations and academics) were interviewed. The research found that in all of the countries of research, there are no specialized institutional responses to missing migrant cases, and existing official frameworks and mechanisms to search for missing persons in national contexts are not adapted to address the dynamics pertaining to irregular migratory journeys. In the absence of State-funded tools and services to adequately address their needs, families of missing migrants develop their own strategies to search for information, mostly through informal channels. The report describes the ways in which families search for answers, the challenges they face in doing so, and the overlapping impacts of the absence of their missing loved ones. The findings for this report inform recommendations for ways in which governments and other actors can better support families of missing migrants. Individual reports, with the detailed findings and recommendations for Ethiopia, the United Kingdom, Spain and Zimbabwe, are also available on the IOM Publications Platform.

  • Acknowledgements
  • Figure and text box
  • Abbreviations
  • Assessment of the needs of families searching for relatives lost in the Central and Western Mediterranean
  • Executive summary
  • Chapter 1 – Introduction and context
    • 1. Introduction
    • 2. Methodology
  • Chapter 2 – Findings 
    • 1. Contextualizing the decision to migrate
    • 2. The search process and its sources
      • 2.1. Searching within networks of friends, family members and the diaspora
      • 2.2. Smugglers, brokers and other facilitators of migrants’ journeys
      • 2.3. The role of community members, civil society and other community-based organizations
      • 2.4. Social and mass media
      • 2.5. Humanitarian/rescue organizations
      • 2.6. State and State-affiliated agencies
      • 2.7. Other sources or search mechanisms
    • 3. Challenges related to the search for a missing migrant 
      • 3.1. From disinterest to intimidation, abuse and disrespect: Interactions with State authorities
      • 3.2. Lack of legal and policy frameworks applicable to cases of missing migrants
      • 3.3. The lack of immigration status and its intertwining with race and ethnicity
      • 3.4. Criminalizing families and civil society advocates
      • 3.5. Crime: Scams and extortion
    • 4. Impacts of disappearances on families left behind
      • 4.1. Missing migrants and gender dynamics
      • 4.2. Shame and stigma
      • 4.3. Legal impacts and socioeconomic precarity
      • 4.4. Emotional and psychological challenges
  • Chapter 3 – Conclusion
  • Bibliography