Migrants being rescued in the Mediterranean by the humanitarian organisation Sea Watch, February 2018. Thousands of people die at sea each year trying to reach Europe from North Africa/ Photo Credit: Sea Watch

Why 2023 was deadliest year for refugees ever

Last year was a tragic year for migrants, marking the deadliest toll since 2014, according to the International Organisation for Migration. A staggering 8,565 lives were lost on migration routes worldwide, representing a 20 percent increase from the previous year. These heartbreaking figures underscore the urgent need for action to prevent further loss of life, says the UN agency, emphasizing the importance of safe migration and the creation of regulated pathways to reduce the risks faced by those forced to undertake dangerous routes.

More people died on migration routes worldwide in 2023 than ever before, at least since data collection began in 2014. The “Missing Migrants Project” of the UN International Organisation for Migration (IOM) registered a total of 8,565 deaths in 2023. This is 20 per cent more than a year earlier, as the IOM reported on Wednesday. In total, the project has documented the deaths of more than 63,700 people since its launch, almost half of them in the Mediterranean.

According to these figures, the Mediterranean crossing from North Africa to Europe remained the riskiest for migrants in 2023, with at least 3,129 deaths and disappearances. This is the highest death toll recorded in the Mediterranean since 2017. Overall, about half of the deaths were due to drowning, nine per cent to car accidents and seven per cent to violence.

Furthermore, the number of fatalities among refugees in Africa (1,866) and Asia (2,138) was higher than ever before. In Africa, most of these deaths occurred in the Sahara Desert and on the sea route to the Canary Islands. In Asia, hundreds of Afghans and Rohingya died last year while fleeing their countries of origin.

The IOM emphasised that the actual figures are estimated to be significantly higher. It only registers verified cases. If, for example, a people-smuggling boat leaves the coast at night and does not turn up anywhere, the deaths remain undetected.

Established in 2014 following two devastating shipwrecks off the coast of Lampedusa, Italy, the Missing Migrants Project is recognized as the sole indicator measuring the level of ‘safety’ of migration in the Sustainable Development Goals and the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration.

“As we mark the Missing Migrants Project’s ten years, we first remember all these lives lost. Every single one of them is a terrible human tragedy that reverberates through families and communities for years to come,” said IOM Deputy Director General Ugochi Daniels. “These horrifying figures collected by the Missing Migrants Project are also a reminder that we must recommit to greater action that can ensure safe migration for all, so that 10 years from now, people aren’t having to risk their lives in search of a better one.”

Sola Jolaoso

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