In 2014, more than 5,000 migrant fatalities were recorded globally. Since then, the annual number of deaths recorded during migration has increased each year – totalling nearly 23,000 over the period between January 2014 and August 2017. During the first eight months of 2017, IOM’s Missing Migrants Project recorded 3,514 deaths and disappearances of international migrants were worldwide This figure is lower than the 4,264 recorded in the first eight months of 2016, but still represents a significant increase over the number of fatalities recorded in the equivalent period in 2014 and 2015.
Nevertheless, we do not know the true number of migrant fatalities that occur across the world. This is due largely to the challenges of collecting data on irregular migration in general, as the migratory status of a person can change several times during the journey, as do laws and programmes of transit and destination countries. Therefore, IOM’s data on migrant deaths and cases of people reported as missing during their journeys are best understood as minimum estimates.
Due to the up scaling of data collection among other reasons, the Mediterranean continues to account for the vast majority of deaths recorded globally. Since 2014, nearly 15,000 migrant deaths and disappearances have been recorded, with 5,143 in 2016 alone – the highest number recorded since at least the year 2000.
Though the 2,410 fatalities recorded so far in 2017 are lower than the 3,234 recorded in the first eight months of 2016, the rate of death for migrants crossing the Mediterranean has increased from 1 per cent to 1.64 per cent. This means that for every 61 migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean so far in 2017, one has died, compared to one in every 97 in January to August 2016.
The Mediterranean crossing has become more dangerous, in large part due to the decrease in flows via the Eastern Mediterranean and an increase in the number of crossings in winter months via the deadly Central Mediterranean. Since 2014, more fatalities have been recorded on the Central Mediterranean route than on any migration route worldwide, due in part to the longer overseas journey and increasingly dangerous smuggling practices.
During the eight months of 2017, the number of bodies found washed up on the shores of North Africa was significantly higher than in previous years. Between January and August 2016, 178 bodies were found in ten separate occasions in Libya and Tunisia, while in the first half of 2017, 343 bodies were recovered in 54 separate incidents.
The increased numbers of recovered human remains found on the shores of North Africa may be in part due to the increased operational capacity of the Libyan Coast Guard; however, this does not explain the nearly four-fold increase in bodies recovered on Tunisian shores.
For more in-depth analysis of migrant fatalities in the Mediterranean, click here.
Between 2014 and 2016, many of the migrant deaths recorded on land in Europe occurred near the Calais migrant camps and on the Western Balkans route. Since the closure of the Calais camps in late October 2016, only two deaths have been recorded in the area, compared to 13 recorded between November 2015 and August 2016.
Though the number of migrants arrivals recorded by IOM’s Displacement Tracking Matrix (DTM) in Balkan states has decreased by more than half this year compared to 2016, the number of recorded migrant deaths has increased from 13 in the first eight months of 2016 to 21 recorded so far in 2017.
Additionally, since September 2016, 12 migrant fatalities have been recorded on the overland route from Italy to France, with four specifically found dead at Cannes La Bocca station, France.
IOM’s Missing Migrants Project data show that more than 3,900 individuals have died during migration in different parts of Africa since 2014. There are many data challenges in the continent, but the majority of fatalities have been recorded along routes from Western Africa and the Horn of Africa north towards Libya and Egypt – since 2014 hundreds of fatalities have been recorded in the Sahara Desert alone.
This year, far more migrant fatalities have been recorded in the Gulf of Aden between the Horn of Africa and Yemen than in previous years. The 111 deaths recorded so far in 2017 include several incidences in which dozens of migrants were killed, including a boat which was attacked by an Apache helicopter and several shipwrecks which were caused by pushbacks.
These figures are likely a conservative estimate of the true number that have died during migration, as much of these data come from media reports and surveys conducted by MHub and RMMS’s 4mi programme. Their total sample size of approximately 4,000 migrants surveyed in 2016 is relatively small given that IOM’s DTM estimates that 333,891 migrants travelled to North Africa via Niger last year.
Continuing reports of migrant fatalities in Africa indicate not only that the routes through North Africa and the Horn of Africa are very dangerous for migrants, but also that in most cases, the only proof of a migrant’s death is the testimony from their fellow migrants.
Since 2014, IOM has recorded more than 2,000 deaths across the Americas, most of which occurred on the United States-Mexico border. Despite the fact that fewer migrants seem to be crossing into the United States in 2017, more deaths have been recorded on the border this year.
The US Border Patrol has apprehended 165,033 migrants between January and July 2017, just over half the number (314,712) recorded in the first seven months of 2016. Despite this large decrease in apprehensions, the number of migrant fatalities recorded in 2017 is slightly higher than the number recorded in the same period of 2016. 249 migrant fatalities have been recorded in 2017, similar to the 245 recorded between January and August 2016.
Across the Americas, most of the migrants who die are not identified. The remoteness of many irregular routes means that they may not be found for long periods of time, and consequently, their remains deteriorate. Routes from Southern and Central America north presents numerous risks to migrants, including trekking through remote environments in extreme weather, taking unsafe transportation options and being kidnapped and held for ransom.
Missing Migrants Project data for Central America are largely drawn from media reports, many of which are added to the database months, if not years, after the incident occurred. Therefore, the available data are very likely to be lower than the true numbers of migrant fatalities.
For more in-depth discussion of the data collected by Missing Migrants Project in each region, look for Fatal Journeys Volume 3 – Part 1, which will be published 12 September in the IOM Bookstore.