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Rights for migrant dead and their families

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Last Rights, Mytilini Declaration, the Dignified Treatment of All Missing and Deceased Persons and Their Families as a Consequence of Migrant JourneysA declaration of intent.

Every year global cross-border movements continue to exact a devastating toll on human life both on land and at sea.

But while some of the dead have been counted, many more are missing.

And the names of most of the dead and missing are not known; their families have not been traced, and where bodies have been found, they are often buried in unmarked graves.

So families do not know if a missing relative – a parent, spouse, brother, sister or child – is alive or dead.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) Missing Migrants Project has said that determining how many die or are killed is “a great challenge”, and that, at a minimum, 46,000 migrants have lost their lives or have gone missing worldwide since 2000 and that the actual number is no doubt greater given the many who are never found.

Reporting mechanisms on the African routes are lacking and the number of deaths on the Central American routes is largely undetermined.

They also have very little idea of how many have perished in the Gulf of Aden, the Bay of Bengal or the Andaman Sea.

But by 13 February 2018 at least 589 people are known to have died in the first two months of the year, 401 of those in the Mediterranean area.

Many were women and children.

Many more remain missing.

Tragically, deaths will continue to occur, in particular when States and the international community as a whole fail to meet their moral and legal commitments.

The Last Rights project was set up to create a framework of respect for the rights of missing and dead refugees and migrants and bereaved family members.

And co-convenors Catriona Jarvis and Syd Bolton have been celebrating real progress in the struggle for dignified treatment for migrants who lose their lives after the signing in Lesbos of the Mytilini Declaration earlier this year, in May; 11 May 2018 can now be put in the diary as a landmark date for future reference.

On that date, more than 50 experts and activists from around the world agreed the final text of the groundbreaking new Mytilini Declaration for the Dignified Treatment of All Missing and Deceased Persons and Their Families as a Consequence of Migrant Journeys.

The Declaration calls on States and their authorities to comply with their human rights obligations to protect and promote the rights of all migrants to safe passage and to respectful, fair and just treatment when dealing with the grief and tragedy of those seeking answers, seeking justice and closure for their lost and missing loved ones.

The full text can be seen here, and organisations and individuals are invited to endorse the Declaration.

Already there are approaching 100 signatures and endorsements from around the world.

The Mytilini Declaration has been signed by the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions and has been recommended to the drafters of the soon to be finalised UN Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration.

In June, the Declaration was presented and discussed at the world conference on border deaths at the Free University in Amsterdam.

Also in June, Last Rights was invited to a conference in Rome hosted by the Swiss Ambassador to Italy and the International Committee for Missing Persons in relation to the experiences of families, which followed an earlier inter-governmental discussion concerning a pilot Independent Referral Mechanism.

Last Rights had previously called for an independent mechanism in each country as the single or main place to which families can turn and which will answer their questions.

And Last Rights is now encouraging all the people who work with refugee and migrant families or have an interest in their protection and well-being to endorse this document, to use it in their own work as a set of clear and unambiguous principles and standards, to hold agencies and authorities to account for how they treat migrants in these situations of distress and trauma.

At all levels, whether local, national or internationally, these standards apply to everyone and offer concrete guidance on how to ensure that bereaved families are treated with dignity and respect and can obtain justice.

In the next twelve months, the Declaration will be supplemented by a comprehensive set of guidelines, an explanatory note and glossary, in the form of a Protocol.

Last Rights aim to launch this Protocol on the first anniversary of the Declaration.

For as UN Special Rapporteur, Agnes Callamard, said, in her August 2017 report ‘Unlawful death of refugees and migrants’, “This represents one of the great untold tragedies of this catastrophe, one that triggers the responsibility of States to provide dignity and accountability in death.”

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