The UN asks Spain for “clear protocols” to facilitate the search and identification of missing migrants

Behind each arrival of a boat to the Spanish coast, there are always families waiting for a call. When the days go by and the phone does not ring, those waiting for news often run into multiple obstacles to know if their loved ones are alive or dead. Although they go to the Spanish authorities, they rarely find answers, which prompts them to initiate chaotic inquiries on their own to try to confirm the whereabouts of their son, sister, or friend. A new report from the International Organization for Migration (IOM), associated with the United Nations, questions that in Spain there are no “specific procedures, protocols or institutions” that deal with the search, investigation and identification of missing or deceased migrants in their migratory path, for which it demands from the State the promotion of clear plans to address it.

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The investigation ‘Families of missing migrants: their search for answers, the impact of the loss and recommendations to improve responses’, published this Tuesday, delves into the different obstacles faced by relatives of disappeared persons in their attempt to migrate to Spain irregularly, as well as in the different strategies to which those who seek answers cling, given the scarcity of official channels to find them. “Families attempting to locate their loved ones encounter various legal and bureaucratic obstacles that arise during the search and identification processes, as the existing institutional frameworks have not yet been adapted to deal with the particular dynamics of deaths and disappearances on irregular migratory routes “, the document states.

The non-existence of a specific protocol or a point of care for the relatives of disappeared migrants pushes these families to try to locate them on their own, using different channels, ranging from contacting friends and relatives in different countries to seeking clues or help. ; with volunteers and grassroots activists who work with migrant communities or who are known to have provided this kind of support; as well as disseminating the photographs through social networks or even through television programs in their countries of origin.

Throughout the process, points out the IOM, these people also face the mistrust that the authorities arise when they go to the institutions to report the disappearance or ask for some information that will lessen their pain: “The focus on the criminalization of irregular immigration makes it difficult for families and activists or volunteers to contact or report disappearances to the authorities, fearing accusations or even formal investigations into alleged participation in migrant smuggling “, questions the organization associated with the UN.

Activists who help families in cases of missing migrants report that they are often subjected to “harassment and intimidation” by the authorities, who question their role in search efforts or their links with families, and even They accuse them of collaborating with groups dedicated to the smuggling of migrants or of being traffickers themselves, sometimes threatening them, the document collects.

Aida, a Moroccan human rights defender living in Andalusia, has been a direct witness of this type of attitude in police stations: “I filed a complaint with the National Police for the disappearance of a boy, and a couple of days later I received a call from the UCRIF [la Unidad Central Española de Redes de Inmigración Ilegal y Falsedades Documentales] in which they asked me if I had any relationship with the owner of the boat in which the boy was traveling, “he explains in a testimony included in the report.

“The really cruel thing is that the authorities ask what happened, and even then they ask for the names of the traffickers and the starting points. How can they ask that of the families?”

To the lack of a specific place to go and the lack of support are usually found in the institutions, there are added “multiple structural limitations” which, according to the IOM, are conditioned by numerous factors, such as “gender, socio-economic situation, social situation. administrative, language or racialization. The precariousness of the families of disappeared migrants is one of the reasons that prevents them from dedicating time to investigative work: “Undertaking a search usually implies an economic burden for families that have an income limited to get started or unable to take time off work to search for a loved one. Filing complaints, meeting with authorities, traveling to the places where the person was last seen or following in the person’s footsteps can incur considerable costs. ”

The desperation linked to the lack of answers often pushes the relatives of the disappeared to be a victim of fraud, when they ask for money in exchange for alleged information about the whereabouts of their loved ones, many times after the publication of their photos on social networks or local media, the report adds.

Laila, a Moroccan citizen, was the victim of one of these fraud attempts when searching for her brother from Morocco: “We sent a photograph to the program on missing persons on Moroccan public television Moukhtafoun. People who had seen the program started calling us. take advantage of us, they told us [mi hermano] I was at the prision. Someone from Al Hoceima called us and asked us for money in exchange for information. We went to Al Hoceima and handed over the money. Then the person disappeared. ”

When the search is carried out from abroad, without any contact person in Spain, the task is even more complicated. “In accordance with Spanish legislation, to proceed with the search for a Moroccan migrant who disappeared in Spanish territory, families would also have to file a complaint with the Spanish police, something practically impossible, since there are no protocols that allow families to travel with this end “, question the researchers. “If we could, we would go to Spain to file a complaint and give DNA samples, but we can’t,” says Laila, one of the interviewees. The IOM criticizes the “complexity of the requirements” imposed by Spain to obtain a visa in order to locate their relatives.

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