Skip to main content

Repository of Practices

Recommendations on Regional Coordination and Information Exchange Mechanisms in the Search for Missing Persons in the Context of Migration

GCM Objectives

GCM Guiding Principles*

*All practices are to uphold the ten guiding principles of the GCM. This practice particularly exemplifies these listed principles.

Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

Dates

2018 - 2022

Type of practice

Other

Geographic Scope

Regions:

Summary

The Americas, is experiencing one of the most complex migration processes worldwide, as record numbers of persons are moving to other countries in search of protection, family reunification or better economic opportunities. As they do so, they are exposed to the risk of disappearing due to different reasons and are also at risk of dying without their families receiving any news about them. After two days of dialogue among the representatives of the RCM Member Countries, during which they analyzed their experiences of bilateral and multilateral exchange in tracing and identifying missing persons along the migration route, “Recommendations on Regional Coordination and Information Exchange Mechanisms in the Search for Missing Persons in the Context of Migration” were developed. These Recommendations establish and define models for cooperation and information exchange between countries, aiming to serve as a reference that may be used in accordance with national contexts. The recommendations and mechanism models aim to facilitate the work of institutions and authorities involved in the matter and to enable the families of missing persons in the context of migration to gain a better understanding of the processes through improved access to information about the search for their missing relatives. They include models of how these types of mechanisms operate, which can be adapted and replicated in the various countries in the region. This document contains: - a section on criteria for information standardization and centralization; - models of the three types of mechanisms that exist in the region to be used and adapted by each country; - the definition of the role of consular authorities and ministries of foreign affairs in the search for missing persons in the context of migration.

Collaborators

Main Implementer

Regional Conference on Migration (RCM)

Other Organizations

Regional Conference on Migration (RCM)

Partners

International Committee of the Red Cross
International Organization for Migration - IOM
Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

Benefit and Impact

With the adoption of the recommendations, participating States recognized the need to continue enhancing collective efforts to support the implementation of national, bilateral and regional mechanisms to search for missing persons in the context of migration. This was also recognized as a key priority for the region in the implementation of the Global Compact on Migration (GCM). To support the implementation of the recommendations, participating States see the importance of pursuing multi-stakeholder efforts to develop functioning regional information exchange mechanisms which can effectively contribute to providing answers to families of missing migrants.

The Recommendations are a unique, much welcome instrument given the emergency of improving exchange mechanism on missing migrants in the region. Member countries and observer organizations have agreed to continue working together and monitor the progress towards the implementation of the recommendations, as reflected in the RCM Strategic Plan 2023/2026.

It would further be important to consider ways to also engage countries which are not part of the RCM including Venezuela/ Haiti as key countries of origin of migrants in the region. Collaborations with other actors and institutions should also be sought, including with local actors likely to be in possession of relevant information (municipalities, reception centers, other organizations and committees of families).

Key Lessons

Several challenges are identified among which:
- Communication with families: The families of missing persons, including of migrants, live in a permanent state of anguish, regardless of the circumstances in which their relatives have gone missing. Families of missing persons, including of migrants, also often face administrative, legal and economic challenges directly linked to the fact that their relative is missing, especially if there is no specific recognition of the legal status of a missing person in the country in which they are residing. They further do not know who to address in case Authorities in countries of origin, transit and destination should ensure that programmes designed to support migrants take into account the specific needs and challenges that families of missing migrants face.
- Adequate forensic capacities are key to the functioning of adequate information exchange mechanisms on missing and deceased persons. There are contexts where forensic capacity is good in urban centers but poor in peripheral, or rural areas, where dead migrants are often found. Consequently, the initial information collected from the body may be inadequate, or insufficient, and the entire process of identification and traceability can be affected as a result.
- Another challenge is the lack of centralization of forensic data. In some situations, efforts are made to collect information from bodies, but the information is not centralized. This makes it difficult to use in further efforts to identify a person and ensure the traceability of their remains. Two things are critical to improve forensic capacity at national level. First, clear protocols must be formally set up for the management and centralization of information on unidentified bodies. Second, forensic capacity and standards must be brought up to the same level of quality in all parts of each country.
- Among the biggest challenges is the lack, at regional level, of centralized and accessible databases containing information on all unidentified bodies, including those of migrants. The information available is often partial and diffuse. This makes the identification of dead migrants difficult and inefficient, and leaves many individuals unaccounted for. This problem is compounded by the lack of formal protocols between countries for matching data collected from dead bodies and ante-mortem data collected from families.

Recommendations(if the practice is to be replicated)

While non-binding upon states the recommendations do create common standards and shared benchmarks against which participating states can develop their national systems and transnational collaboration to facilitate exchange of information on missing migrants. They establish models for cooperation and information exchange between countries and between relevant institutions at different levels.

Following their adoption, the ICRC co-organised together with Fundación para la Justicia in August 2022 in the framework of the El Salvador Presidency of the RCM a workshop where the implementation of the recommendations was discussed and a series of possible follow up measures were identified. Participants acknowledged the importance of pursuing exchanges on this topic as it has now converted itself into a key humanitarian challenge for the region, affecting all RCM participating countries.

Each country experiences the situation differently depending on whether it is a country of origin, transit and/or destination, however collaboration and thematic discussions are key to learn and share practices and challenges. Developing functioning regional information exchange mechanisms which can effectively contribute to providing answers to families of missing migrants requires multi-stakeholder efforts. The following activities can be pursued at local, national and regional levels to further :
1) Training institutions involved in the search for missing migrants;
2) Defining standards, practices, information flow on the repatriation, death notification procedures and involvement of the families ;
3) Supporting, reinforcing and promoting existing coordination mechanisms;
4) Strengthening and developing links among institutions at national and regional levels including through enhanced communication and better coordination;
5) Elaborating bilateral agreements and protocols;
6) Developing recognized, standardized and shared databases.

Innovation

Regional fora such as the RCM have a critical role to play in addressing the challenges of migration through collective action. The RCM is the first regional policy platform which has placed regional collaboration on Missing migrants as a priority. Following four years of expert consultations and discussions, last month, the Recommendations on Regional Coordination and Information Exchange Mechanisms in the Search for Missing Persons in the Context of Migration are the first regional instruments worldwide which aim to facilitate the search for migrants who have gone missing or have died by establishing models for cooperation and information exchange between countries and between relevant institutions at national, bilateral and multilateral levels and setting out a number of concrete steps to improve cooperation in the search.
The Americas region and the RCM are in this way to be considered pioneers in devising concrete regional measures to address the issue of missing migrants. Their efforts should be replicated in other regions.
It should however also be acknowledged that the adoption of these recommendations is not the end of the road and efforts should be pursued to prevent migrants from going missing or dying along migration routes and to search for and identify those who have gone missing and to assist their families.

Date submitted:

17 October 2023

Disclaimer: The content of this practice reflects the views of the implementers and does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations, the United Nations Network on Migration, and its members.

 

 

Recommendations on Regional Coordination and Information Exchange Mechanisms in the Search for Missing Persons in the Context of Migration

GCM Objectives

Dates:

2018 - 2022

Type of practice:

Other

Other (Type of Practice):

Regional Recommendations

Geographic Scope

Regions:

Summary

The Americas, is experiencing one of the most complex migration processes worldwide, as record numbers of persons are moving to other countries in search of protection, family reunification or better economic opportunities. As they do so, they are exposed to the risk of disappearing due to different reasons and are also at risk of dying without their families receiving any news about them. After two days of dialogue among the representatives of the RCM Member Countries, during which they analyzed their experiences of bilateral and multilateral exchange in tracing and identifying missing persons along the migration route, “Recommendations on Regional Coordination and Information Exchange Mechanisms in the Search for Missing Persons in the Context of Migration” were developed. These Recommendations establish and define models for cooperation and information exchange between countries, aiming to serve as a reference that may be used in accordance with national contexts. The recommendations and mechanism models aim to facilitate the work of institutions and authorities involved in the matter and to enable the families of missing persons in the context of migration to gain a better understanding of the processes through improved access to information about the search for their missing relatives. They include models of how these types of mechanisms operate, which can be adapted and replicated in the various countries in the region. This document contains: - a section on criteria for information standardization and centralization; - models of the three types of mechanisms that exist in the region to be used and adapted by each country; - the definition of the role of consular authorities and ministries of foreign affairs in the search for missing persons in the context of migration.

Collaborators

Main Implementer:

Regional Conference on Migration (RCM)

Other Organizations:

Regional Conference on Migration (RCM)

Partners:

International Committee of the Red Cross
International Organization for Migration - IOM
Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

Benefit and Impact

With the adoption of the recommendations, participating States recognized the need to continue enhancing collective efforts to support the implementation of national, bilateral and regional mechanisms to search for missing persons in the context of migration. This was also recognized as a key priority for the region in the implementation of the Global Compact on Migration (GCM). To support the implementation of the recommendations, participating States see the importance of pursuing multi-stakeholder efforts to develop functioning regional information exchange mechanisms which can effectively contribute to providing answers to families of missing migrants.

The Recommendations are a unique, much welcome instrument given the emergency of improving exchange mechanism on missing migrants in the region. Member countries and observer organizations have agreed to continue working together and monitor the progress towards the implementation of the recommendations, as reflected in the RCM Strategic Plan 2023/2026.

It would further be important to consider ways to also engage countries which are not part of the RCM including Venezuela/ Haiti as key countries of origin of migrants in the region. Collaborations with other actors and institutions should also be sought, including with local actors likely to be in possession of relevant information (municipalities, reception centers, other organizations and committees of families).

Key Lessons

Several challenges are identified among which:
- Communication with families: The families of missing persons, including of migrants, live in a permanent state of anguish, regardless of the circumstances in which their relatives have gone missing. Families of missing persons, including of migrants, also often face administrative, legal and economic challenges directly linked to the fact that their relative is missing, especially if there is no specific recognition of the legal status of a missing person in the country in which they are residing. They further do not know who to address in case Authorities in countries of origin, transit and destination should ensure that programmes designed to support migrants take into account the specific needs and challenges that families of missing migrants face.
- Adequate forensic capacities are key to the functioning of adequate information exchange mechanisms on missing and deceased persons. There are contexts where forensic capacity is good in urban centers but poor in peripheral, or rural areas, where dead migrants are often found. Consequently, the initial information collected from the body may be inadequate, or insufficient, and the entire process of identification and traceability can be affected as a result.
- Another challenge is the lack of centralization of forensic data. In some situations, efforts are made to collect information from bodies, but the information is not centralized. This makes it difficult to use in further efforts to identify a person and ensure the traceability of their remains. Two things are critical to improve forensic capacity at national level. First, clear protocols must be formally set up for the management and centralization of information on unidentified bodies. Second, forensic capacity and standards must be brought up to the same level of quality in all parts of each country.
- Among the biggest challenges is the lack, at regional level, of centralized and accessible databases containing information on all unidentified bodies, including those of migrants. The information available is often partial and diffuse. This makes the identification of dead migrants difficult and inefficient, and leaves many individuals unaccounted for. This problem is compounded by the lack of formal protocols between countries for matching data collected from dead bodies and ante-mortem data collected from families.

Recommendations(if the practice is to be replicated)

While non-binding upon states the recommendations do create common standards and shared benchmarks against which participating states can develop their national systems and transnational collaboration to facilitate exchange of information on missing migrants. They establish models for cooperation and information exchange between countries and between relevant institutions at different levels.

Following their adoption, the ICRC co-organised together with Fundación para la Justicia in August 2022 in the framework of the El Salvador Presidency of the RCM a workshop where the implementation of the recommendations was discussed and a series of possible follow up measures were identified. Participants acknowledged the importance of pursuing exchanges on this topic as it has now converted itself into a key humanitarian challenge for the region, affecting all RCM participating countries.

Each country experiences the situation differently depending on whether it is a country of origin, transit and/or destination, however collaboration and thematic discussions are key to learn and share practices and challenges. Developing functioning regional information exchange mechanisms which can effectively contribute to providing answers to families of missing migrants requires multi-stakeholder efforts. The following activities can be pursued at local, national and regional levels to further :
1) Training institutions involved in the search for missing migrants;
2) Defining standards, practices, information flow on the repatriation, death notification procedures and involvement of the families ;
3) Supporting, reinforcing and promoting existing coordination mechanisms;
4) Strengthening and developing links among institutions at national and regional levels including through enhanced communication and better coordination;
5) Elaborating bilateral agreements and protocols;
6) Developing recognized, standardized and shared databases.

GCM Guiding Principles*

*All practices are to uphold the ten guiding principles of the GCM. This practice particularly exemplifies these listed principles.

Innovation

Regional fora such as the RCM have a critical role to play in addressing the challenges of migration through collective action. The RCM is the first regional policy platform which has placed regional collaboration on Missing migrants as a priority. Following four years of expert consultations and discussions, last month, the Recommendations on Regional Coordination and Information Exchange Mechanisms in the Search for Missing Persons in the Context of Migration are the first regional instruments worldwide which aim to facilitate the search for migrants who have gone missing or have died by establishing models for cooperation and information exchange between countries and between relevant institutions at national, bilateral and multilateral levels and setting out a number of concrete steps to improve cooperation in the search.
The Americas region and the RCM are in this way to be considered pioneers in devising concrete regional measures to address the issue of missing migrants. Their efforts should be replicated in other regions.
It should however also be acknowledged that the adoption of these recommendations is not the end of the road and efforts should be pursued to prevent migrants from going missing or dying along migration routes and to search for and identify those who have gone missing and to assist their families.

Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

Date submitted:

17 October 2023

Disclaimer: The content of this practice reflects the views of the implementers and does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations, the United Nations Network on Migration, and its members.

 

 

*References to Kosovo shall be understood to be in the context of United Nations Security Council resolution 1244 (1999).