If You Were There by Francisco Garcia review – a missing persons report

A sensitive investigation challenges our understanding of what it means to be missing, and how it feels for those left behind

Every year in the UK 176,000 people go missing. These are the known missing. Some will make the papers, some of their faces shared so widely we feel we know them. Others, the public never hears about. Perhaps they are not young enough, white enough, photogenic enough in the eyes of the press, perhaps they have mental health issues, or are children in care. Then there are the unknown missing, those who voluntarily abscond from their lives, those who are homeless, undocumented immigrants, young people who disappear for weeks at a time while ferrying drugs across county lines. In short, those whose passing out of sight never gets reported.

Such examples create a rupture in our understanding of what it means to be missing: is a person still missing if no one is looking for them, if they go missing more than once (a third of all missing person cases are repeat incidents), if they want to remain gone? At once, the term becomes less clear cut. This is journalist Francisco Garcia’s intention: to interrogate our conception of missing persons, hoping that, by its end, they will no longer be considered “an abstraction” but an inevitable part of contemporary society, operating at the peripheries of all our lives.

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