Dead migrants and information to their families

Actions taken:

– Please describe the actions taken (including challenges encountered if there is any) and provide concrete examples (including written reports, programme information, photos and videos)

In addition to actions taken at the national level to support this pledge, the British Red Cross served as the Chair of the Deceased Migrants and Information to their Families Transnational Working Group from December 2018 until April 2019. The Working Group has enabled information sharing and the gathering of best practices and tools. These have been shared through meetings, teleconferences and via Flextranet. Moreover, it is hoped that the National Societies’ final reports for this pledge will offer an additional way to share best practices with the wider Movement.

3 key facts and figures

Building on the work of the mapping done in 2017, the British Red Cross undertook further analysis of its missing migrant caseload in 2019, which was shared internally with relevant colleagues who are working on the missing migrants file and with the members of the Working Group. In the exercise, the British Red Cross found that between 2013 and 2018, the British Red Cross International Family Tracing service assisted 76 people in the UK looking for 121 people who went missing whilst trying to reach Europe by sea.


Amongst the 121 people, 54%, were men and boys compared to 40% of women and girls. For 6% of cases the information about the missing person’s gender was not recorded on the database.


The average age of the 121 people at time of disappearance was 25, with the youngest one being 3 years old and the oldest 76. Over half of the people who went missing were under 30s (66 out of 121).

46 out of the 66 people under 30 were minors.


As for the enquirer’s relationship to the missing people, the following types were recorded:


27% are Parents/Children

  • 8 out of 121 people missing were the enquirer’s children
  • 24 out of 121 missing people were the enquirer’s parents

40% are Siblings

  • 49 out 121 of missing people were related to the enquirer as siblings

17% are Distant relatives

  • 7 out 121 missing people were the enquirer’s niece and nephew.
  • 8 out 121 missing people were the enquirer’s aunt or uncle
  • 5 out of 121 missing people were the enquirer’s cousin

10% are Non-blood relatives

  • 10 out 121 missing people were the enquirer’s partner
  • 2 out 121 missing people were the sought person’s partner

The relationship between the enquirer and the sought person is important to take into consideration when potentially exploring collecting and analysing DNA data for the purpose of identification. In most cases, DNA analysis can only be performed with the necessary degree of certainty between parents and children.


2 high resolution pictures with an extended caption



1 story of interest

In December 2018, the UK Government, with humanitarian policy support from the British Red Cross, signed the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration. Objective 8(e) of this framework encourages States to:

Collect, centralize and systematize data regarding corpses and ensure traceability after burial, in accordance with internationally accepted forensic standards, and establish coordination channels at transnational level to facilitate identification and the provision of information to families.

To support action towards the British Red Cross’s Pledge on Dead Migrants and Information to their Families, and to support the UK Government to uphold its agreement under the Global Compact for Migration, the British Red Cross is exploring piloting a project with the UK Missing Persons Unit (UKMPU), a branch of the UK National Crime Agency (NCA), to try to identify the bodies of remains of missing migrants.

The British Red Cross  plans to partner with the UKMPU in its role as an auxiliary to the public authorities in the humanitarian field. UKMPU is the UK national and international point of contact for all missing person and unidentified body cases. It is also a hub for the exchange of information and provision of expertise on the subject of missing persons.

The goal of this project is to match kinship DNA volunteered from family members living in the UK with DNA recovered from the remains of those who have died along one of the migratory routes in the Mediterranean near Greece. It is hoped that this will provide closure to some of those families who believe that their loved one may have died along one of the Mediterranean migratory routes.

The scope of this pilot project is to run through the DNA collection and analysis procedure for up to five cases. The project has a geographic focus on Greece because the Greek procedures for conducting DNA analyses are the clearest of any of the Mediterranean countries considered for this pilot. If this pilot is successful, the scope of the project may be widened in the future to include more cases or cases from countries other than Greece.


Possible Challenges

One major regulatory barrier which has been identified through the Working Group’s mapping exercises is that there is no systematic collection of post mortem data or procedures across the regions where the remains of deceased migrants are most likely to be found.  A common set of procedures for collecting information on deceased migrants and a common national database standard would help in this regard.

As part of the DNA analysis trial, the British Red Cross and the UKMPU have thoroughly explored the legal requirements for collecting DNA samples volunteered from family members living in the UK, creating DNA profiles based on those samples and transmitting those profiles abroad to determine if they match the DNA profiles of those who have died along a migratory route.

Although a significant challenge, the British Red Cross and the UKMPU were able to design a process for the proposed pilot project which would transmit a living family member’s pseudonymised DNA profile  via INTERPOL to another European police force in a manner that would be in compliance with both UK laws on the protection of DNA data, and the EU General Data Protection Regulation.

If, during the DNA pilot project, we obtain a positive match between a family member living in the UK and the remains of a deceased person who was found in another European country, then there may be other legal or regulatory challenges to overcome, such as securing permission to transmit additional information about the living family member via INTERPOL to assist an inquest in formally identifying the body of the deceased person.

Implementation completion:

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