Migrants attempt to cross the Rio Grande from Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua state, Mexico, on February 29, 2024. US President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump both visited the US-Mexico border in Texas today, in Brownsville and Eagle Pass, respectively. LEHTIKUVA / AFP

International news

The year 2023 emerged as the deadliest year for migrants globally, with at least 8,565 lives lost across various migration routes, marking a significant and somber milestone. This alarming figure, as reported by the International Organization for Migration's (IOM) Missing Migrants Project, indicates a 20 percent increase in deaths compared to the previous year, underlining a critical call for action to safeguard migrant lives.

Ugochi Daniels, the IOM Deputy Director General, reflected on the decade-long effort of the Missing Migrants Project, emphasizing the profound human tragedy each lost life represents. "As we commemorate ten years of the Missing Migrants Project, we mourn the loss of these individuals whose absence leaves a lasting impact on families and communities worldwide," Daniels stated. She also stressed the importance of reinforcing commitments to enable safe migration, aiming to significantly reduce the need for perilous journeys in search of better lives.

The 2023 toll surpasses the previous high in 2016, which saw 8,084 deaths, marking it as the most lethal year since the project began in 2014. The majority of these deaths, over half, were attributed to drowning, followed by vehicle accidents and violence. This highlights the desperate conditions under which migrants embark on their journeys, often through irregular and dangerous routes due to the scarcity of safer alternatives.

The Mediterranean Sea remains the most perilous passage for those seeking refuge, recording at least 3,129 deaths last year alone—the highest since 2017. Additionally, Africa and Asia witnessed unprecedented fatalities among migrants, with notable increases in deaths in the Sahara Desert, the sea route to the Canary Islands, and among Afghan and Rohingya refugees fleeing turmoil at home.

As the Missing Migrants Project marks its tenth anniversary, it has documented over 63,000 deaths and disappearances. However, this number is believed to be an underestimate, with the true scale of the tragedy likely much higher, complicated by the difficulty of data collection in remote and dangerous areas.

The initiative, launched following tragic shipwrecks off Lampedusa in 2014, serves as a critical resource for understanding the risks of migration and underscores the urgent need for collaborative efforts to improve the safety of migrants. With an upcoming report set to detail the data collected in 2023, the IOM and its partners will assess the progress and challenges in expanding safe migration channels, enhancing search and rescue operations, and providing support to affected families.

As the coordinator of the UN Network on Migration, the IOM appeals to governments and the global community to intensify their efforts in preventing further tragedies and upholding the rights and dignity of every individual undertaking these perilous journeys.