Thousands of families and relatives of the missing persons all over the world continue to wait for their loved ones who have disappeared in course of armed conflict, disasters, migration or other events. They continue to live in ambiguity due to lack of accurate information. The ambiguous loss is one of the most painful, difficult loss to deal with as it is unclear and without closure.
Having worked with families of missing persons (during armed conflict: 1996-2006) in a comprehensive psychosocial program supported by International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), I am thoughtful even more on this day about them and both their suffering and strength of facing such adversity. Nepal government has been trying to address the issues of families of missing in conflict through the Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons (CIEDP) while there has been little efforts made in search for missing migrants and helping their families. ICRC and Nepal Red Cross Society (NRCS) jointly have been trying to help such families through its tracing and restoring family links (RFL) activities. It is hard to estimate the number of missing migrants because little records are available.
In recent years, one of the major attempts to help Nepali migrants has been Safer Migration Project (SaMi), a bilateral initiative of the Governments of Nepal and Switzerland. HELVETAS Nepal and the Ministry of Labour and Employment are implementing the project at the district level in over 19 districts through local NGOs and government agencies. SaMi aims to promote safer and beneficial migration by helping migrants to be informed, skilled and safer in context of foreign employment. My interaction with colleagues and local people recently in Saptari and Dhading have indicated that SaMi project could produce some estimate of missing migrants that have been reported by the families in the Information and counseling centers (ICC).
Ms. Sanu Maya Aryal is a psychosocial counselor working in Chandrajyoti Integrated Development Society (CIDS) for Safer Migration (SaMi) project supported by Helvatas. She highlights the phenomenon of missing cases among migrant workers in Dhading district. In the last two years, they have helped over 411 migrants/their families in a comprehensive manner for safer migration. Out of 411, they have recorded 60 cases of still missing migrants and 14 cases have been solved which were initially recorded as missing. The families are completely unaware of whereabouts of their loved ones who have gone for foreign employment. She herself is familiar with an agony of having a missing family member as her father had disappeared during an armed conflict.
Ms. Aryal says, “Definitely this issue of missing migrants has not received an adequate attention on the national level, I can say there are many unreported cases of missing migrants. I have been to places in Dhading where people do not speak Nepali, are illiterate and so poor (lack resources) that they cannot report the case of disappearance to the authorities or NGOs. One of the major challenges while coming across such cases is lack of proper documents with the family. They show us the photograph of a person which is like 7-8 years old and creates difficult for identification of the person.”
She recalls, “ It is a very challenging task to search for missing migrants. And sometimes, even when the person is helped to reestablish family relations, an unfortunate event can take place. It is not a happy ending. There was one case in which a female migrant had lost contact with family for over 5 years. The family reported her as missing and after much efforts, she was rescued back to Nepal. She had suffered as housemaid and had been traumatized. Upon her return, she was further traumatized when she came to know that her husband had remarried and she had little means to support her two children. She ultimately committed suicide.”
Migration is one of the major national issues with migrant population contributing to over one third of national GDP through remittance. Nepal is one of the countries with highly remittance-dependent economy in the world. It has been major force in improving economic conditions of majority of Nepali despite decades of political instability and pace of extremely slow development. It is important to note that it brought about many significant economic and social changes. The government of Nepal, concerned departments and related agencies should pay proper attention to migrants in general and also to the issue of missing migrants and their families.
Expressing solidarity with families of missing persons (in conflict and migration) on International Day of the Disappeared.