GENEVA: At least 63,285 people have perished or disappeared on migration routes around the world between 2014 and 2023, with most deaths caused by drowning, the UN migration agency said on Tuesday.

A report published by the International Organi­sation for Migration (IOM) on its Missing Migrants Project showed that the majority of deaths and disappearances — 28,854 — occurred in the Mediter­ranean, followed by Africa and Asia.

Nearly 60 per cent of deaths documented were linked to drowning, and more than one third of those identified were from countries in conflict, including Afghanistan, Myanmar, Syria and Ethiopia.

IOM’s data showed that the deadliest year for migrants in the last decade was 2023, when it recorded 8,541 deaths in part due to a sharp increase of fatalities in the Mediterranean.

“The increase in deaths is likely linked to the increase in departures and, correspondingly, shipwrecks, off the coast of Tunisia,” the report said, adding that at least 729 people died off the Tunisian coast in 2023, compared to 462 in 2022.

“In all prior years, most deaths in the Central Mediterranean were documented off the coast of Libya.” With anti-immigration parties steadily gaining influence across Europe for years, governments have attempted to curb migration flows to their countries by pledging funds to countries across the Mediterranean such as Tunisia and Egypt.

Earlier this month, the EU pledged a 7.4 billion euro ($8 billion) funding package to Egypt that Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni described as “the best way to address migratory flows.” The governments of several European countries, including Italy, Hungary and Britain, have made curbing immigration a top priority, while elsewhere far-right parties like France’s National Rally, led by Marine Le Pen, have gained popularity.

Religious leaders are among those who have called for greater compassion towards migrants. Pope Francis has called for a pan-European response to migration to stop the Mediterranean from becoming “a sea of death”.

Published in Dawn, March 27th, 2024

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