The topic of immigration is certainly a hot one these days, as evidenced by the U.S.-Mexico border – but this also happens far beyond our continent. Migration is not always a simple task for those who undergo it – while many do so legally, others risk their lives to cross deserts and seas to get to more hospitable conditions. Unfortunately, these journeys can be extremely harrowing, and many end up missing or dead as a result.
We took a look at the global statistics of migration, numbers that include refugees fleeing from war-torn countries and asylum-seekers. However, it’s a good idea to remember this data only represents minimum estimates – many deaths and missing people aren’t reported, so these numbers are likely far higher.
Causes of Death Worldwide
The most common cause of death around the world from 2018 to 2019 was drowning and presumed drowning. A quick glance at the map shows that waterways are prevalent around the world and are often found between a migrant and their destination – for example, the Rio Grande, which is located along the southern border of Texas. This river has become a difficult obstacle for those crossing from Mexico into the U.S.
There were also many drowning-related deaths along the Mediterranean Sea, as it’s a common route for those fleeing countries in North Africa and the Middle East. The Horn of Africa has also seen a lot of movement as refugees migrate from Somalia to neighboring countries like Yemen.
The second biggest cause of death for migrants was vehicular accidents, followed by sickness and a lack of access to medicine. Recently, a van carrying migrants in Turkey was involved in a serious accident that left 10 people dead at the country’s border with Greece.
Unfortunately, there are a myriad of other reasons migrants might die on their journeys. Exhaustion, exposure, fire, train accidents, murder, and starvation are just a few.
Syria, Turkey, and Greece
Edirne, Turkey, (where the van accident occurred) has seen a large increase in migrants from countries like Afghanistan and Iran due to social media rumors that Europe would admit more migrants. And while officials in Edirne tried to stop the van, it sped up instead, causing the accident.
One of the most impactful images from the Syrian War and resulting refugee crisis was taken by photographer Nilufer Demir of the Dogan News Agency. She captured the harrowing photo of 3-year-old Alan Kurdi who drowned off the Turkish coast in 2015. Social media helped spread his story around the world and led to changes in European migrant policy. His family had departed a bloody war in Syria and was set on migrating to Greece, but a capsized boat took the life of Alan, his mother, and his brother.
The Mediterranean Sea is a large buffer between Europe, Africa, and West Asia. In 2019, there were 681 deaths (as of July) reported in the Mediterranean, and although deaths peaked for the region in 2014 and 2015 (in April of 2015, there were 1,494 deaths reported), it remains an ongoing concern.
Migration of those who seek Europe by way of the Mediterranean has declined drastically, which may explain why fatalities have decreased over the years. However, while the number of deaths is down, the percentage of deaths has actually increased since 2015, reportedly because those who are moving migrants are taking more risks due to increased surveillance in countries like Libya.
Drowning was, again, the biggest cause of death, particularly along the northern African coastline – while Europe seems so close when traveling by sea, dangers lurk, and not all migrants reach its shores safely.
In 2019, there were 184 migrant deaths along the U.S.-Mexico border (as of July 8). This is a hotly contested area, specifically regarding the border status of the U.S., whether migrants should be allowed to seek asylum, and the treatment of those in the custody of border agents.
The Mexican border along Arizona, for example, had a wide smattering of deaths that were designated as unknown. And many have died from hyperthermia, which is a risk in the Arizona summer heat.
Along Texas, deaths occurred due to dehydration, exposure, and drowning (or presumed drowning).
Migrant deaths related to Mexico are not limited to its border. A migrant tried to cross train tracks when he met an untimely end due to an oncoming train in Durango. A man from El Salvador was murdered in Durango in March of 2019, and in Zacatecas, another man from El Salvador fell from a moving vehicle.
Central American migrants often hop aboard trains to move through Mexico as they make their way to the U.S. border. And it’s been a part of recent discussions about border security, particularly regarding tariffs on Mexican goods. Looking at the map of migrant deaths throughout Mexico, there were a large number of incidents involving falls from trains or train accidents. As a result, the Mexican government agreed to arrest those riding trains to avoid tariffs at the behest of President Trump.
Dangers of Seeking a New Life
Migration, for whatever reason, isn’t an easy decision to make. Questions about the legality of travel can lead to unsafe passage through waters or terrain, often courtesy of human traffickers who don’t keep the safety of passengers in mind.
Perils often abound for those seeking asylum, and it’s important to remember that many deaths are underreported, so the true number of human lives lost is likely much higher.
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