Type of practice:
Hoping to reduce the high number of missing migrants and unidentified deceased individuals in the Southern African region, primarily between the Zimbabwe – South Africa migration corridor, the ICRC Regional Delegation in Pretoria undertook a pilot project “Missing and Deceased Migrant Program” (MDMP) to aid in the resolution of cases of missing persons and unidentified human remains. The program entails working together with South African and Zimbabwean authorities to complement existing systems, tools and resources used to locate missing migrants – living or deceased. The objectives of the program are to provide families of missing and deceased migrants with answers about the fate of their loved ones; restore the identity and dignity of deceased migrants and enable the return of their remains to their loved ones for proper burial; and to improve the way in which families, public authorities and forensic practitioners share information used to search for and identify missing and deceased migrants. The initial phase involved engaging with the authorities and community groups to better understand the problem. This was followed by the registration of missing persons cases by conducting interviews with families of migrants that went missing from the Zaka and Gwanda Districts in Zimbabwe. During the interviews information on the possible whereabouts of the missing persons and personal data which could be used in identification was collected and compiled as a tracing request (for community enquiry) and missing persons information form (for authorities and long-term enquiry). During the pilot phase 61 tracing requests and missing persons forms were collected with 15 of these people being located and reunited with their families through ICRC’s community engagement in South Africa. The pilot project confirmed that when a conduit is accessible for reporting missing relatives, families will readily participate. Furthermore, families provide very useful missing persons information that is forensically pertinent for both tracing inquiries but can also be entered into the various databases managed by authorities and relied upon to complement efforts towards the identification of deceased persons. The pilot initiative (phase 1) was initiated from 2016-2018. Due to the success of the pilot phase the ICRC further developed it into a multi-phase program, with phase 2 being implemented from 2019-2021. During this phase the program expanded its collection of missing persons data into the Harare and Bulawayo districts within Zimbabwe whilst continuing collection of tracing requests in Zaka and Gwanda. From 2022 onward the ICRC Regional Delegation in Pretoria started with the handover phase. This entails handing over the program to the Red Cross National Societies as well as the authorities to undertake the program further for its long-term implementation.
Benefit and Impact
Other positive secondary benefits of the Missing and Deceased Migrant Program further saw the establishment of Oversight Committees responsible for overseeing the project after the handover, in both Zimbabwe and South Africa. The first Oversight Committee meeting was held in Zimbabwe on 30 August 2021 and was attended by representatives from the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP), Immigration, Central Registry, Foreign Affairs, Health, Justice and Civil Protection. The first meeting of the Oversight Committee in South Africa was held on 7 October 2021 and included participants from the South African Police Service, Justice, Health and Home Affairs. During these meetings it was agreed that the existing Interpol mechanism for sharing of information between Zimbabwe and South Africa will be used as the official conduit for the missing migrant cases. Technological equipment was also donated to the Interpol desk in Zimbabwe for supporting this endeavour. To ensure that the ZRP are aware that they can register cases of missing migrants, various workshops were held in Harare, Masvingo, Bulawayo and Matabeleland South in collaboration with the ZRP and Interpol NCB to sensitize authorities to the procedure to be followed in these cases.
As highlighted above there needs to be a formal agreement between the two countries to ensure that the program is sustained once handed over the authorities. The first combined Oversight Committee meeting between Zimbabwe and South Africa during which the Terms of Reference of this agreement is to be formalized is still to take place. The ICRC plans to continue to provide technical support and guidance to the Oversight Committee as they establish the mechanism and the program continues to develop, which will require additional resources.
Recommendations(if the practice is to be replicated)
2. Missing persons can both be alive or dead but those that are dead provide immediate opportunities for identification and return to the families rather than only looking for the missing that remain obscure in society and may not want to be found due to fear of deportation and fear of prosecution. The need for a systematic approach on both ends (both the missing and dead) is thus necessary.
3. The use of a neutral intermediary is beneficial in cases where community-police engagement is sub-optimal.
4. Migrant projects, like any forensic projects dealing with open population cases, should start as pilots and grow as the resources become available.
5. Support authorities through pilot projects to demonstrate concrete results of their labour so that they may be more inclined to invest in the program further.