Each year, many people disappear along the migration route into Europe, a long journey over land and sea filled with danger. In an effort to trace the missing, a Syrian software developer created the website "MaybeHere", a platform where friends and families can report disappearances and share information. This online community has already helped to locate four missing people.
In 2017, more than 2,500 migrants died at sea while trying to cross the Mediterranean, according to French medical charity Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders). In early 2016, Europol estimated that more than 10,000 unaccompanied minors have disappeared in Europe over the last two years.
The families of the missing face immense challenges while looking for their loved ones. They rarely have detailed information about where or under what circumstances their loved one went missing. Many families turn to social media in an attempt to find information. They write posts about their missing relative, which are then shared and circulated.
However, these posts, which are composed by anguished family members and not professionals, often lack key information. Take, for example, the case of Ahmed Mohammed Moussa. His family posted his picture, alongside the hashtag '#perdu' ('missing' in French), on September 10, 2017. The post says he went missing “Friday at sunset on the road towards the cemetery”. However, there is no mention of what town or even what country he was last seen in.
Mohammed Tutonji, a Syrian software developer who has been a refugee in the Turkish city of Bursa since 2014, wanted to come up with a better, more organised way for people to look for missing family members. During his free time, he created the specialised platform MaybeHere, which he launched in July 2017. It is currently available in English and Arabic.
Screengrab of the site with photos of those missing.
"I ask detailed questions about the circumstances under which the person went missing, as well as the specific date and location"
I got the idea to create this platform while surfing on Facebook. Randomly, I came across a post about a young Syrian woman who had been kidnapped in Turkey. The post had been shared on several different pages, but I noticed that, sometimes, key information was left out or had been copied with errors. I started thinking that Facebook wasn’t actually the best way to look for someone. Especially because, in some cases, the person was located but people continued to share the “missing” post.
So, I decided to create an online platform to centralise information about people who had disappeared along the migration route. I wanted to create a platform where all the information had been verified and was updated regularly. I thought it could be a really useful tool for people looking for missing loved ones who often aren’t even carrying identity papers.
At first, I created this site specifically for Syrians. However, very soon, people from all different countries had started using it.
To post on the site, all people have to do is register online. Then, you fill out a form with information about the missing person: their full name, age, gender, eye colour, any distinctive features that could help to identify them, and the date and location they were last seen. You can also enter their contact details, like their email and phone number.
On MaybeHere you can search by category. For example, by selecting the category “Syrian”, you can find all of the reports of missing Syrians on the site.
One user reported the disappearance of a family of eight people, who all went missing while trying to cross the sea from Turkey to Greece.
Salima Ahmed Khalil and seven of her family members disappeared on December 10, 2015 in the Aegean Sea after the boat they were on sank while en route to the Greek island of Farmakonisi. Only four passengers from the boat managed to reach Greek shores; two people managed to get to Turkey. Four bodies were later found, but 20 more people, including Khalil and her family, are still missing.
Profile pages for missing people.
Another case is that of Mohammed Zina.
The post explains: "He was hoping to reach Greece by river on an inflatable raft that set off from the city of Edirne (in Turkey) with his friend, who is also Lebanese. They wanted to immigrate to Germany. We were in touch with him that day on WhatsApp.” The friend who was traveling with Zina swam back to Turkey from a small Greek island and was arrested by Turkish authorities. He later returned to Lebanon, but was unable to provide more information about his missing friend. They don't know any more.
Four people locatedI always call the people who report a missing relative or claim to have found someone. I ask them specific questions about the circumstances in which their loved one went missing as well as the place and the date.
Then, I do research to verify both the information and the photos that they give me. I make sure that the site doesn’t contain false information. There are people out there who get a kick out of sharing fake reports of missing people. Currently, I have about 100 reports of missing people on the site. We have already closed four cases, which means that we found out what happened to them through MaybeHere. Until the person is found, we keep the case open.
People located thanks to Tutonji’s website.
My aim is to develop the site in different languages, especially French, German, and Turkish, so I can increase my audience and also increase the chances of locating missing people.