2023 was deadliest year for migrants on record

The Mediterranean crossing continues to be the deadliest route for migrants on record, with at least 3,129 deaths and disappearances. Photo: AFP

• A total of 8,565 migrants died on land and sea routes worldwide in 2023, International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said, a record high since it began counting deaths a decade ago.

• As safe and regular migration pathways remain limited, hundreds of thousands of people attempt to migrate every year via irregular routes in unsafe conditions. 

• Slightly more than half of the deaths were a result of drowning, with 9 per cent caused by vehicle accidents, and 7 per cent by violence. 

• The Mediterranean crossing continues to be the deadliest route for migrants on record, with at least 3,129 deaths and disappearances. This is the highest death toll recorded in the Mediterranean since 2017. 

• Regionally, unprecedented numbers of migrant deaths were recorded across Africa (1,866) and Asia (2,138). In Africa, most of these deaths occurred in the Sahara Desert and the sea route to the Canary Islands. 

• In Asia, hundreds of deaths of Afghan and Rohingya refugees fleeing their countries of origin were recorded last year. 

• Established in 2014 following two devastating shipwrecks off the coast of Lampedusa, Italy, the Missing Migrants Project is recognised 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.  

• Last year’s total surpasses the number of dead and missing globally in the previous record year of 2016, when 8,084 people died during migration, making it the deadliest year since the Missing Migrants Project’s inception in 2014.

Who is a migrant?

• Since the earliest times, humanity has been on the move. Some people move in search of work or economic opportunities, to join family, or to study. Others move to escape conflict, persecution, terrorism, or human rights violations. Still others move in response to the adverse effects of climate change, natural disasters, or other environmental factors.

• The UN Migration Agency — International Organisation for Migration — defines a migrant as any person who is moving or has moved across an international border or within a State away from his/her habitual place of residence, regardless of:

i) the person’s legal status

ii) whether the movement is voluntary or involuntary

iii) what the causes for the movement are

iv) what the length of the stay is.

• The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development recognises the contribution of migration to sustainable development. Eleven out of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) contain targets and indicators relevant to migration or mobility. The Agenda’s core principle is to “leave no one behind,” not even migrants.

The International Organisation for Migration (IOM)

• Established in 1951, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) is the leading inter-governmental organisation in the field of migration. 

• IOM works to ensure the orderly and humane management of migration, to promote international cooperation on migration issues, to assist in the search for practical solutions to migration problems and to provide humanitarian assistance to migrants in need, including refugees and internally displaced people. 

• In 2016, IOM entered into an agreement with the United Nations, becoming one of its specialised agencies.

• With 175 Member States and eight States holding observer status and offices in over 100 countries, IOM is dedicated to promoting humane and orderly migration for the benefit of all. 

• The IOM Constitution recognises the link between migration and economic, social and cultural development, as well as to the right of freedom of movement.

IOM works in the four broad areas of migration management:

i) Migration and development

ii) Facilitating migration

iii) Regulating migration

iv) Forced migration.

• IOM activities, that cut across these areas, include the promotion of international migration law, policy debate and guidance, protection of migrants’ rights, migration health and the gender dimension of migration.

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