‘Like a part of a puzzle which is missing’: The impact on families of a relative missing in migration across the Mediterranean. Report on the situation of families

Deadly shipwrecks and the bodies of migrants have become the most iconic images of the contemporary refugee crisis at the EU’s periphery. In 2015 and the first half of 2016, more than 6,600 are known to have died crossing the Mediterranean, with an additional number of unrecorded deaths. Although the media and solidarity groups have shed light on the plight of living refugees, and highlighted the shocking reality of shipwrecks, relatively little is known about migrants whose fate is not known to their families. Authorities in the countries of reception (most notably Greece and Italy) have been unprepared to deal with the nature and volume of this unprecedented humanitarian crisis. Currently, there is a policy vacuum around the problem, marked by minimal cooperation among different state agencies, a lack of effective investigation, and little effort to contact the families of the missing. This results in bodies being buried unidentified, with little respect for religious and cultural expectations or the rights of the families. As such, thousands of families in countries of migrant origin remain unaware of the fate of their loved ones.

The families are the real, yet invisible, victims of this humanitarian disaster. In the absence of a body to bury they are trapped in a state of ambiguity, not knowing where loved ones are, or if they are dead or alive. If they are dead, the location of the body is unknown. Families suffer from ambiguous loss: a traumatic loss that gives rise to symptoms of depression, anxiety, and family conflict. Ambiguous loss is the most stressful type of loss precisely because it is unresolved. Existing policies fail to maximize the prospect of identification, and inhibit any communication between authorities and families, guaranteeing that families continue to be trapped in ambiguity.

It is hoped that this report can encourage approaches that can minimise the numbers of migrants whose bodies are retrieved at the EU’s southern borders, but who remain unidentified.

Please read the full report here or below: