The issue of missing and disappeared persons is complex everywhere, but especially in the Syrian context. It derives not only from the current conflict, as a result of which an estimated 100,000 persons are missing, but also from a legacy of missing and disappeared persons cases linked to human rights abuses and other causes that occurred prior to the conflict. Syrians who have fled the conflict have also gone missing along migratory routes, in treacherous Mediterranean crossings or through criminal enterprises that prey upon migrants and refugees, including child trafficking in Europe and elsewhere. In addition, there are persons who are not Syrian missing in Syria, including journalists, ISIS fighters, combatants from foreign armies and others. And there are children living in detention centers whose parents – ISIS fighters and others – are missing.
ICMP’s Syria Program, launched in 2016 with European Union (EU) support, is working to lay the foundations for an effective process to address the issue of the missing, and to help Syrian families of the missing, especially those now headed by women, so that they can form support networks and develop the resilience and understanding needed to drive the process of locating the missing. While the cooperation of the Government of Syria is unlikely in the short term, a great deal can already be done, even in terms of the limited scope to account for missing persons and engage with families of the missing and CSOs inside Syria.
At the outset of the Syria Program, ICMP identified the need to facilitate the development of a shared vision among Syrian CSOs and families on concrete measures that could be jointly undertaken to account for the missing. Developing a strategy to locate and identify the missing and secure their families’ rights to justice, truth and reparations – including practical provisions such as inheritance, economic benefits, and custody of children, as well as return – requires building a shared understanding among civil society, families of the missing and international organizations of the significance and objectives of the process of locating the missing and establishing the circumstances of their disappearance.