Drones, social media and cutting-edge forensics are being marshalled to help identify the thousands of migrants who die trying to reach safe countries in Europe.
In 2022, it was estimated that 2,062 migrants died crossing the Mediterranean Sea alone with many aid groups saying the figure could be much higher.
Just 22% of those who die attempting to cross seas and land masses are identified, leaving families in the dark about the fate of their loved-ones.
Now, an EU-backed group of researchers will attempt to establish a continent-wide resource base for Migrant Disaster Victim Identification to take the task to the next level.
Professor Caroline Wilkinson, Institutional Lead for Forensic Research Strategy at Liverpool John Moores University and project lead, said: “Current actions have been inadequate and under-funded with far too few victims being identified. There is a lack of communication between countries of origin and arrival and a lack of joined up processes across the piece.
“We have the technologies but they have not been marshalled to apply their full potential to this global issue.”
Face Lab at LJMU, of which Caroline is also director, has carried out migrant victim identification in the Canary Islands and Greece, and has on-going research in the field with the University of Milan, the University of Thrace and the Platform of International Forensic Assistance.
As far back as 2007, The European Commissioner for Human Rights said it was imperative to begin a process to identify and account for the thousands of ‘missing’ undocumented migrants whose identities are unknown. However, despite the frequency and magnitude of these tragedies over the last ten years, European governments have been slow to recognise that families have a right to know the fate of missing migrant relatives.
Added Prof Wilkinson: “We see it as a moral necessity to try to identify each person for family and legal matters but it is especially challenging where the country of origin is poor or war-torn, where identification details are absent and migration is undocumented and unmonitored.”
Researchers from Croatia, Cyprus, Greece, Italy, Portugal, Spain have come together to coordinate initiatives to establish new and common methodologies to identify migrants. This will involve knowledge-sharing, training, online resource creation and more. Researchers from South Africa and Senegal are also involved.
The network aims to drive the development and validation of international processes and resources, including the utilisation of innovative craniofacial, drone and social media methods.
The LJMU team comprises Dr Wilkinson, Dr Sarah Shrimpton (Face Lab), anthropologist Dr Maria Castaneyra-Ruiz (Face Lab), drone engineer Dr Fred Bezombes and forensic expert Dr Julie Roberts.
-The work is funded by the European Cooperation in Science and Technology, an EU-funded programme which enables researchers and innovators to set-up research networks in a wide range of scientific topics, called COST Actions.