UN Experts Urge States to Tackle Enforced Disappearance of Migrants


States must immediately and efficiently coordinate their efforts to prevent the disappearance of thousands of migrants en route to their countries of destination each year, UN rights experts* stressed on the eve of International Migrants Day.

More than 35,000 migrants have died or disappeared since 2014, according to the International Organization for Migration’s estimate. Every year, thousands of migrants disappeared on their way to or upon arrival in their destination countries. There are no exact figures on the proportion of enforced disappearances in these cases involving State agents or people acting with the authorization, support or acquiescence of States**. Available information, however, indicates that most disappearances occur during detention or deportation proceedings or as a result of migrant smuggling or trafficking.

“Migrants are particularly vulnerable to the risk of enforced disappearance during their arduous journey of trying to reach their destination. Effective and systematic coordination among countries along the route is therefore urgently needed. Mutual assistance and cooperation are key to finding disappeared migrants, investigating their disappearances, accompanying their families and relatives during these processes, as well as protecting and preventing this heinous crime,” the experts said.

“To this end, efficient and interconnected data collection and information systems must be urgently set up, regularly updated and monitored. And specific attention must be paid to the needs of women and children, especially unaccompanied children, who are direct and indirect victims of these crimes,” they added.

The experts stated that many enforced disappearances occur due to States’ rigid border management and migration policies. These policies include blanket refusals of entry, criminalization of migration and mandatory, automatic or very extensive use of immigration detention, collective or arbitrary expulsions, or plain pushbacks, sometimes involving violations of the principle of non-refoulement.

“These factors encourage migrants to take more dangerous routes, to put their lives in the hands of smugglers and to expose themselves to a higher risk of human rights violations and enforced disappearance”, the experts said.

In light of this extremely worrying trend, the Committee on Enforced Disappearances started to elaborate its first-ever General Comment on “Enforced disappearances in the context of migration” to guide State parties on their legal obligations and concrete measures to protect migrants from enforced disappearance.

“While States have a legitimate right to regulate entry into, stay in, and transit through their territories, they also have a legal obligation to eradicate and prevent enforced disappearance. This includes adopting migration-related legislative and institutional reforms, and shifting migration policies and border regimes away from a mere focus on border protection and the prevention of border security violations,” they emphasised.

The experts called on States and other stakeholders, including human rights mechanisms, to strengthen and join their efforts to prevent enforced disappearance. They also asked States to ensure that all disappeared persons and any individuals who have suffered harm as the direct result of enforced disappearance during the migration process can access their rights to know the truth and obtain justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence.

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