Identity, Migrant, Policy, Practice, Research

Missing in Migration: From Research to Practice


Missing in Migration: From Research to Practice

by Simon Robins

 Tunisian mother

The Mediterranean Missing project ( sought to collect data from both sides of the humanitarian catastrophe of migrant deaths at the EU’s southern border, from families missing loved ones as well as from the states who manage their bodies. While the thousands who have died on the beaches of Italy and Greece in recent years remain largely invisible to the citizens of the states whose policies have led to those deaths, for families in the Middle East, Africa and beyond, not knowing what has happened to their loved ones is something they can never forget. The research made clear that European states and the EU do not prioritise returning identity to the nameless dead: they accept no obligations to collect the data – from either the bodies or from families looking for missing relatives – that would enable identification, and end the ambiguity with which families live. Small-scale approaches have demonstrated what is possible – families can be engaged through social media, and DNA and other data collected from bodies: matching of ante- and post-mortem data can restore both identity and a degree of dignity to those who have died trying to enter the EU. This contribution engages with the challenges of bridging the gap between the knowledge production of research and changing how powerful actors behave. Whilst research funders talk glibly of research having ‘impact’, European politicians resist responding to its evidence – even to support the well-being of thousands of secondary victims of the epidemic of migrant deaths in the Mediterranean – remaining beholden to an agenda that stigmatises and excludes migrants, both the living and the dead.

A Tunisian mother with a photo of her missing sons, who disappeared after leaving for Italy. Photo by El Korchi Abdallah. All rights reserved.

Full article forthcoming in April 2018 issue of Practicing Anthropology!

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