Washington – Some call them “missing” on paper, but many migrant families know they are likely dead.
Now, through the Missing Migrants Project, the International Organization for Migration hopes to shed light on the plight of families searching for loved ones and the extent of migrant deaths.
Since 2014, the project has recorded 45,427 missing migrants, just a fraction of the “incidents in which migrants, including refugees and asylum seekers, died at state borders or while migrating to an international destination”.
“Behind every death there is a family – mother, father, brother – looking for answers … they suffer from deep agony over their deceased relatives who are missing,” says Rudi Maxwald, chief regional liaison officer and policy officer of the International Organization for Migration , said in a December 7 webinar that focused on deaths and disappearances on migration routes in Central and North America.
“Many of them will never be certain what happened to them, nor will they receive their remains. These are unimaginable human tragedies that will affect thousands of migrant families for the rest of their lives,” he said.
Julia Black, a project officer for the organization, said the project had registered more than 5,700 people since 2014 who lost their lives while traveling in America, including over 1,000 in 2021.
Although some are classified as “missing”, it is important to understand that missing in this context usually means “that a person has died or disappeared in the course of international migration, usually at sea, or is presumed to be dead.”
Some died during the migration trip from cold, lack of food or water, drowning, accidents on dangerous transport routes, violence on the way, illness and lack of access to medical care during the trip, the reasons, said Maxwald.
Edwin Viales of the Missing Migrants Project said the organization is investigating the movements of people from South and Central America, but there have been many “invisible shipwrecks” that they have no information about because of citizens from countries like Venezuela, Cuba and other nations in the Near the Caribbean go to the seas out of desperation.
The number of known cases would have to be multiplied four times to get a real estimate, he said.
“There may be many other people who may be dead or missing who none of whom has any (idea) that these incidents took place,” he added.
Behind the numbers, the organization also hopes to encourage governments to do more to help families find loved ones.
“Uncertainty and loss when a migrant goes missing has a huge impact on families,” said Viales.
Some start by asking their loved ones’ friends or on social media if anyone has heard from them. But otherwise they have no help from governments. Families must be treated with respect and must be at the center of the processes leading to investigations into missing migrants, Viales said.
“Across America there are important gaps in official, accessible, and effective procedures for finding missing migrants. Civil society organizations often fill the gaps, ”states his Missing Migrants Project website.
“So many people don’t even know where to start when looking for a missing person. States need to put in place a clear, accessible mechanism to help with the search, ”said Kate Dearden of the organization.
In mid-October, Pax Christi USA and the Sisters of the Mercy of the Americas sponsored a group of women called the Caravan of Mothers of the Disappeared, who were looking for sons and daughters who were never heard from again after migrating to the United States
While the issue is gaining traction, it is not a prominent issue on the immigration front.
It is important to think about ways to prevent the dangerous situations migrants are exposed to, said Maxwald, and for this, immigration should be “safe, orderly, regular and with dignity, protect the migrants and ensure that no one is left behind” .