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UN Agency: Over 5,600 deaths reported on European migration routes since 2021

October 26, 2022 at 2:11 pm

32 Syrian and 2 South Sudanese immigrants, including four children rescue at Northern Sabrata’s Lyb Search and Rescue Region in Sabrata, Libya on October 22, 2022 [Vincenzo Circosta/Anadolu Agency]

The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) has documented at least 5,684 deaths on migration routes to and within Europe since the beginning of 2021, the UN Agency said on Wednesday.

In a statement, the IOM said there were increasing numbers of deaths seen on routes across the Mediterranean, on land borders to Europe and within the continent.

“We’ve recorded more than 29,000 deaths during migration journeys to Europe since 2014,” said Julia Black, author of a new IOM report on “Missing Migrants Project” data in Europe for 2021.

Irregular migrants pushed back by Greece - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/Middle East Monitor]

Irregular migrants pushed back by Greece – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/Middle East Monitor]

“These continuing deaths are another grim reminder that more legal and safe pathways to migration are desperately needed,” she added.

At least 2,836 deaths and disappearances were documented on the Central Mediterranean route since 2021 as of 24 October, 2022), an increase compared to the 2,262 deaths recorded between 2019 and 2020.

On the West Africa-Atlantic route to the Spain’s Canary Islands, 1,532 deaths were documented in the reporting period, a figure already higher than any two-year period since IOM began documenting deaths in 2014.

On these long, hazardous overseas routes, data for the current year is highly likely to be incomplete due to the labour-intensive process of verifying all-too-frequent “invisible shipwrecks”, IOM said.

Lost at sea

These are cases in which entire boats are lost at sea without any search and rescue being conducted, according to the IOM statement.

Since 2021, increases in the death toll on many other European routes have been documented, compared to prior years.

On the Western Balkans route, 69 deaths were recorded; on the English Channel crossing (53); at Belarus-EU borders (23) and deaths of Ukrainians fleeing the recent conflict (17).

Beyond a structural failure to provide adequate safe pathways, “Missing Migrants Project” records show that many of the deaths on migratory routes to destination countries in Europe could have been prevented by prompt and effective assistance to migrants in distress.

Forced expulsions

Reports from survivors given to IOM indicate that at least 252 people died during alleged forced expulsions by European authorities, also known as “push backs”, since 2021.

The “push back”-related deaths were documented in the Central Mediterranean (97 deaths since 2021); in the Eastern Mediterranean (70 deaths) and on the Turkiye-Greece land border (58 deaths).

International human rights groups have repeatedly condemned Greece’s “push backs”, saying this practice is endangering the lives of vulnerable migrants, including women and children.

IOM said such cases are nearly impossible to verify in full, due to the lack of transparency, lack of access and the highly politicised nature of such events and, as such, these figures are likely an under-estimate of the true number of deaths.

READ: Migrants found beaten, handcuffed on Greek island of Lesbos, rights group says

“Missing Migrants Project” data indicate that identification rates of those who died on migratory routes to and within Europe are lower than in other regions of the world.

In total, more than 17,000 people who lost their lives on routes to and within Europe between 2014 and 2021 are listed without any information on their country of origin.

This is a key identifying detail, which sheds light on the unresolved loss of countless families searching for missing relatives lost on migration journeys to Europe.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.