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Fatal journeys

Tracking lives lost during migration

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In October 2013, over 400 people lost their lives in two highly publicized shipwrecks close to the Italian island of Lampedusa, but sadly, they are not isolated incidents. Estimates in 2013 and 2014 reach close to 6,500 lost lives of migrants in border regions around the world. Many deaths occur in remote areas and are never reported. This publication investigates how border-related deaths are documented, who is documenting them, and what can be done to improve the evidence base to encourage informed accountability, policy and practice. Included are migration routes through Central America to the United States, with a focus on the United States–Mexico border region; the southern European Union bordering the Mediterranean; routes from sub-Saharan Africa to North Africa; routes taken by migrants emigrating from the Horn of Africa towards the Gulf or Southern Africa; and the waters surrounding Australia.

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Executive Summary

In October 2013, 366 migrants died when their boat caught fire and sank off the coast of Lampedusa. Less than a year later, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) reported that 500 migrants were feared dead after their ship was rammed by another boat near Malta. News of this sinking emerged as an additional ship carrying 200 people sank off the coast of Libya. Sadly, these are not isolated incidents. In 2014, up to 3,072 migrants are believed to have died in the Mediterranean, compared with an estimate of 700 in 2013. Globally, IOM estimates that at least 4,077 migrants died in 2014, and at least 40,000 since the year 2000. The true number of fatalities is likely to be higher, as many deaths occur in remote regions of the world and are never recorded. Some experts have suggested that for every dead body discovered, there are at least two others that are never recovered.

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