UN Migration Agency statement on International Day of the Disappeared

African migrants risking the desert to travel to Europe

Nearly, 23,000 migrant fatalities worldwide have been recorded by IOM, the UN Migration Agency’s Missing Migrants Project since 2014. Overall, 60,000 deaths on migration routes have been recorded in the last twenty years. However, not all deaths and disappearances are reported and/or recorded. In many regions of the world, migrants’ bodies are never found, and many more may never be identified.

Each nameless death represents a devastated family missing a loved one.

On the International Day of the Disappeared, it is vital that we remember the importance of saving lives also in relation to migrants. In many places around the world, men, women and children go missing during migration, some of whom are in detention without recourse to justice. The rights of migrants, including the right to life, must be protected in order to ensure that migration is safe, orderly, dignified and humane.

Backpacks of migrants found in the Arizona desert, as part of the Undocumented Migration Project led by Jason De León at the University of Michigan. Installation: Richard Barnes (Artist/Photographer), Jason De León (Anthropologist), Amanda Krugliak (Artist/Curator). Photo: Richard Barnes / OTTO 2013

Though efforts are being made both to save lives and to improve identification, the thousands of deaths recorded by IOM each year contain only partial information on the individuals that lose their lives. It is likely that many more go missing without a trace.

The Mediterranean crossing, which has claimed the lives of nearly 15,000 migrants since it first made global headlines in October 2013, is just one example of the many deadly migration routes. Hundreds perish every year on the journey from Central America to the United States through Mexico, under the desert sun or are robbed, beaten and raped along the way. Migrants drown in the Bay of Bengal, or on their way from Indonesia to Australia, as they take dangerous sea passages in the hopes of a better life. Migrants die crossing the Sahara Desert into North Africa after being abandoned by smugglers, or drown in the Gulf of Aden as they try to reach the Middle East. Many more disappear and die without a trace.

As we work to save the lives of migrants, we must also consider the families who remain to grieve them. A tragedy even less acknowledged than the terrible loss of life is the fact that many of the migrant dead remain nameless. Each migrant that remains unidentified signifies a family searching for news, hoping that their mother, father, son, daughter, brother, sister, aunt, uncle, cousin is still alive. These families may never be able to truly grieve because they do not know if they should.

Globally, one in seven people are migrants, mostly moving within countries but also across borders. Limiting opportunities for safe and regular migration drives would-be migrants into the hands of smugglers, feeding an unscrupulous trade that threatens the lives of desperate people. Practical protection measures to guarantee safe and regular ways for migrants to reach their destinations are needed. Irregular migrants are human beings in need of protection and assistance. When will we start respecting them?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.