No Trace of You campaign: families of missing migrants need to know
30 August, in honour of the families of missing people
Established in 1983, the International Day of Victims of Enforced Disappearances has since grown to encompass all individuals who have gone missing as a result of armed conflict or natural disaster. That now includes the thousands of migrants who disappear every year.
On the 30th of August this year, we will pay hommage to the families of those who have gone missing. These families are left, in the words of the psychologist Pauline Boss, to cope with an "ambiguous loss." "Ambiguous loss is what happens when somebody goes missing and their presence or absence cannot be clearly established," she says. "If families have no official proof that their loved one is dead or alive, they are unable to move on."
Along with the pain of not knowing that only grows as years go by without answers, these families often face numerous difficulties incluuing psycho-social, administrative, legal and economic problems.
No trace of you: Thousands of migrants are missing on the roads to Europe
According to the International Organization for Migration, nearly 3,300 migrants went missing or deceased along the migration routes into Europe in 2021. In reality, the number is far higher.
See video of the campaign
The #NoTraceOfYou campaign aims to raise the public's awareness of a tragedy that is unfurling at our doorsteps and the situation of the families who are suffering in silence, often alone. Many have seen pictures of rescue boats saving migrants on overcrowded, unseaworthy boats. But for the handful of people who are rescued, how many drown? Nobody knows.
Moreover, those who make it are often unable to tell their families they are well. Losing their mobile phone, spending time in a detention centre or their own families becoming displaced – these are just some of the reasons why people lose touch .
How we help families in their search for answers
Families can be left waiting – often for decades – to hear from their loved ones. But what can be done? The ICRC, with more than 150 years of humanitarian action protecting and assisting those in need, knows this issue well. So do the Red Cross and Red Crescent National Societies who help families look for missing relatives through their Restoring Family Links services.
In 2013, the ICRC and European National Red Cross Societies created Trace the Face, a tool specifically designed to help families find loved ones who have gone missing along the migration routes into Europe. On average, thanks to this tool, one family finds a loved one every week.
Sadly of course, sometimes the person has died. But according to an ICRC report, the bodies of only 13 per cent of those recorded as lost at sea between 2014 and 2019 by the International Organization for Migration have been found and buried in Italy, Spain or Greece.
Many bodies have still not been identified, leaving families in the dark. Proper and dignified management of deceased persons is vital to enable their identification and give answers to the families.
So, at the ICRC, we use forensic expertise to help authorities identify the dead and / or to locate their families. We also work to reconstruct tragic events, such as shipwrecks, drawing on a wide variety of information and sources to give the families of missing people the answers they need.
Whenever possible, the ICRC engages in dialogue with States to seek to prevent people from going missing, to put in place suitable search processes and to ensure dignified management of the dead including identification procedures.
On the occasion of the International Day of the Disappeared, we remind states that it is first and foremost their obligation to keep families informed about what has happened to their loved ones.