IOM records low on migration related deaths by sea globally


A slight dip in the number of refugees crossing the Mediterranean has been recorded for the year 2019 compared to the previous year, reports the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

Last year saw 110,669 migrants and refugees entered Europe by sea which is slightly below the 116,273 men, women and children who crossed the Mediterranean in this fashion in 2018, a decline of about five percent.

The death toll in this dangerous crossings also saw a significant decline as deaths recorded on the three main Mediterranean Sea routes through 2019 are at 1,283 individuals—or about 44% of the 2,299 deaths confirmed during the same period in 2018.

The Mediterranean has claimed the lives of at least 19,164 migrants since 2014.

2019 is the sixth year of IOM’s efforts to systematically record deaths on migration routes worldwide through its Missing Migrants Project. Since the beginning of 2014, the project has recorded the deaths of 34,532 people, including 3,368 in 2019.

As has been the case since 2014, the Mediterranean’s central route between North Africa and Italy remains the region’s deadliest corridor. Missing Migrants researchers estimate one in 33 people died attempting to cross the Central Mediterranean in 2019, compared to one in 35 in 2018 and one in 51 in 2017.

Though the number of deaths recorded fell from 2,299 in 2018 to 2,183 in 2019, these figures do not include a rising number of shipwrecks still yet to be confirmed, according to data collected by IOM’s Missing Migrants Project, based at IOM’s Global Migration Data Analysis Centre (GMDAC) in Berlin, Germany.

That is, this year’s figures do not fully reflect the several ghost boats which went missing in the Mediterranean in 2019, totalling at least 413 people lost at sea whose deaths may never be fully verified. In these cases of ghost boats, no migrants were rescued at sea around the time of the distress calls.

One of these unaccounted for boats was carrying at least 73 people and disappeared in the Alborán Sea en route to Spain on 26 November, including 20 women and 3 children. Another boat disappeared in the Western Mediterranean in January, while at least another five vessels went missing off the coast of Libya en route to Italy. In all seven of these 2019 cases recorded by the Missing Migrants Project, no survivors were rescued at sea near the time of the distress calls.

“The remains of those lost at sea this year may never be found, like thousands of others lost in the Mediterranean. Each year that these deaths continue means more families live in limbo, not knowing whether a relative is dead or alive,” said Frank Laczko, Director of IOM’s GMDAC. “If you come from a high-income country, efforts will be made to find and identify your body should you go missing. The same simply does not apply if you are an undocumented migrant.”

Sadly, ghost boats are not a new phenomenon: IOM documented six unverifiable reports of disappeared boats in the Mediterranean between 2014 and 2018.

Beyond the Mediterranean, many more boats are believed to have been lost on overseas routes, notably on the Western African route to Spain’s Canary Islands. At least 170 migrants lost their lives on this route in 2019, compared to 43 in 2018. (Source: IOM)