‘Invisible shipwrecks’ belie falling migrant deaths: UN

IOM says there were 3,174 migratory deaths in 2020, compared with 5,327 last year, but the real number is likely much higher.

Life jackets are seen washed up on a beach after dozens of migrants drowned in a shipwreck off the coast of Libya [File: AFP]

The number of deaths recorded on migratory routes fell this year, although COVID-19 difficulties and so-called “invisible shipwrecks” mean the real number is probably much higher, officials at the United Nations migration agency said.

The International Organization for Migration’s Missing Migrants Project showed 3,174 deaths compared with 5,327 in 2019.

“People continue to lose their lives on irregular migration journeys despite the extensive travel restrictions in 2020, showing the need for more safe, legal migration options,” Frank Laczko, director of IOM’s Global Migration Data Analysis Centre, which hosts the Missing Migrants Project, said on Friday.

“Behind every one of these figures is a life lost needlessly, and a family who must mourn the person lost.”

Crucially, the data does not include losses from at least 15 so-called “invisible shipwrecks” in the Mediterranean – events that cannot officially be corroborated because the vessels cannot be located and information is insufficient.

If officials learn about them at all, it is often through bereaved family members. Sometimes, the only indication is floating bodies.

In a poignant indication of the problem, the bodies of four children washed up on the shores of Libya this week from a boat believed to be carrying North and West African migrants and refugees.

“Incidents like this happen way too often. These are the ones we know about and the number of lives lost on the crossing are much higher (than reported),” said the IOM’s Safa Msehli.

The report said 729 deaths had been confirmed in the central Mediterranean in 2020.

Msehli estimated that at least 600 more people have drowned in the Mediterranean this year in unrecorded incidents.

“There are gaps, serious life-threatening gaps in the monitoring of these routes,” IOM spokesperson Paul Dillon said, calling on governments to step up search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean.

The IOM data also showed an increase in deaths on some routes, such as the journey to Spain’s Canary Islands, where 593 deaths were recorded compared with 210 last year.

More migrant losses were also recorded in South America, with many of the 104 recorded from Venezuela.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies