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Rising Migrant Deaths Top 4,400 This Year: IOM Records More Than 45,000 Since 2014

Ethiopian migrants cross the deserts of Djibouti before reaching the Obock region, where often they embark on a dangerous sea crossing to the Gulf. Photo: Alexander Bee/IOM

Berlin – Despite repeated calls for concrete action to reduce tragic loss of life during migration journeys worldwide every year, the death toll in 2021 has surpassed 4,470 after dozens were reportedly killed Thursday when a truck packed with migrants crashed in Chiapas, Mexico. More than 45,400 deaths have been recorded since 2014, according to the International Organization for Migration’s (IOM) Missing Migrants Project

Globally, the number of deaths this year is already more than the 4,236 total recorded in 2020. Considering fatal incidents are often recorded weeks or months later, the final toll in 2021 is likely to be much higher.

“COVID-19 has meant an unprecedented decrease in human mobility, but the Missing Migrants Project still documents deaths almost every day,’’ said Frank Laczko, Director of IOM’s Global Migration Data Analysis Centre (GMDAC), where the project is based. 

“Dozens of states have committed to the Global Compact for Migration but very few have engaged on Objective 8 to ‘save lives and establish coordinated international efforts on missing migrants’. IOM urges States to develop policy and practice to reduce the risks that people face in seeking a better life.”

The number of deaths and disappearances has increased on many migratory routes across the world in 2021, including in Europe and the Americas. 

At least 54 migrants died in Thursday’s truck crash in Chiapas – the single deadliest incident for migrants in Mexico since at least 2014, when IOM began documenting deaths. Some 651 people died this year attempting to cross Mexico’s border with the United States, more than in any year since 2014. This increase is especially concerning because most data for this border region are reported only after the year ends.

Across the Americas, 1,121 deaths were recorded this year – including this latest tragedy – also higher than other years. More deaths were recorded in South America than ever before, with 64 of 137 deaths involving Venezuelan nationals.

On migration routes to and within Europe, the 2,720 deaths recorded make it the deadliest year in the region since 2018. The Central Mediterranean crossing has claimed at least 1,315 lives so far this year. At least 937 people died on the Atlantic route to the Spanish Canary Islands – more than any previous year for at least a decade. Boats often disappear without a trace: invisible shipwrecks could account for hundreds of lives lost in addition to the deaths recorded on this route. 

The land border between Turkey and Greece also saw an increase in deaths in 2021, with at least 41 lives lost, more than any year except 2018, when 59 were recorded.

Though high-profile migration routes such as the Mediterranean and United States-Mexico border crossing have accounted for thousands of deaths since 2014, this year has been marked by deaths on harder-to-document land routes:

  • On the Belarussian borders with the European Union, 21 deaths in 2021, though no official data are available.
  • In the Darien Gap, a remote jungle region between Colombia and Panama, 42 lives lost, though the more than 125,000 irregular crossings this year means the true death toll is likely far higher.
  • On the crossing between the Horn of Africa and Yemen, at least 98 deaths compared to 40 recorded in 2020, though deaths on this route are also extremely difficult to document.

Mass tragedies involving migration have increasingly become normalized. IOM urges States to develop policy and practice to reduce the risks that many people on the move are forced to take during migration journeys.
Learn more about missing migrants data and the impacts on families left behind at Missing Migrants Project website, including recent report with data on migrant deaths in the Americas.

For more information, please contact: 

Jorge Galindo at IOM GMDAC, Tel: +49 1601 791 536, Email: jgalindo@iom.int; Safa Msehli at IOM HQ, Tel: +41 79 403 5526, Email: smsehli@iom.int   

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