Missing (but not forgotten) migrants

Missing (but not forgotten) migrants


According to the World Migration Report, it is estimated that 272 million people are migrants, which is equivalent to 3.5% of the world's population.

Every year, hundreds of these people die crossing deserts, rivers or remote areas on the different migratory routes of the American continent. The actual number of those who die during their journey through this region is unknown, but the records compiled by the Missing Migrants Project indicate that between 2014 and 2018 at least 3,015 people lost their lives and only from January to September 2020, 365 people have died in the Americas.

Many of the deaths of migrants in Latin America and the Caribbean occur on the border between the United States and Mexico. According to the Mesoamerican Migrant Movement, it is estimated that between 72,000 and 120,000 migrants disappeared between 2006 and 2016. On this route, migrants face risks such as: dehydration, extortion by organized criminal groups, and exposure to accidents, falls and other dangers related to traveling through places with inhospitable topography. Many of these people know (some) of the dangers of the migratory process they will undertake, but sometimes they have lost so much in their countries of origin that, according to the declarations of some migrants, they are not even afraid of losing their life during the migratory journey.


Missing Migrants Project (MMP)

The IOM MMP is a global open database on migrants’ deaths and disappearances. Data on the origin, location, and cause of death of these people are compiled to provide a detailed data analysis, with the fundamental premise of counteracting the invisibility of this issue. The Project is based on a Human Rights approach, with the firm premise that the data are humanising and that they support the generation of public policies, as well as provide information to migrant families who make tracking requests.

It also seeks to contribute to the fulfillment of Sustainable Development Goal 10, specifically of its target 10.7, "facilitate orderly, safe and responsible migration and mobility of people, including through the implementation of planned and well-managed migration policies"; indicator 10.7.3 "number of people who died or disappeared in the process of migration towards an international destination" and Goal 8 of the Global Compact on Migration, "save lives and prevent migrant deaths and injuries”.

Since 2014, the MMP has documented the death and disappearance of more than 35,000 women, men and children. In 2019 alone, the MMP registered 5,303 deaths, hence exceeding the sum of 4,000 deaths through migratory processes for the fifth consecutive year. Historical data estimate at least 75,000 deaths on migratory travel since 1996.


Who is a Missing Migrant according to the MMP?

There are no universally accepted definitions for the terms “missing migrant” or death “during the migratory process”. This has repercussions on the data that is collected and recorded.

According to the MMP’s criterion, missing migrants are people who have died at the external borders of the states, or during the migratory process to an international destination, as well as those who presumably deceased, due to their disappearance during the journey. This selection criterion does not consider deaths in reception or detention centres of migrants, deaths of migrants in irregular migration status while residing in a foreign country (as a result of labor exploitation, for example, or deaths related to internal displacement) or reports of missing persons in destination countries.

By gererating "humanizing data", the project transcends the conventional compilation of information, giving a face to each and every one of these disappeared migrants, making visible the harsh conditions they face during their migratory transit.


Making visible the invisible 

It is necessary to understand through empathy what it means for a person to have to leave their country of origin, especially if they do so out of the desire to improve their quality of life or that of their family, or because their very existence is in danger.

It is even harsher to imagine that a human being who dies or disappears during their migration process will never be able to experience that reunion, that hug, that smile or new opportunity on the other side of the border, where a family, children, partner or loved ones will remain, waiting and searching with a permanent anxiety.

To help understand this terrible situation and make visible the invisible, the MMP is currently generating a mapping and identification process with the IOM offices, as well as with government institutions, NGOs and the media that can serve as liaisons and focal points to facilitate data on deceased and missing migrants in the region.

With the creation of this network of actors, it is intended to achieve a multilateral articulation that can be a mechanism for the collection, identification and monitoring of data of deceased or disappeared migrants, that encourages global access to the responsible analysis of data on migration and that develops the ability of States and other relevant partners to improve the evidence base for national, regional and global migration. 

If you want to know more about the project, you can visit their website missingmigrants.iom.int

For more information about the process of creating the network with IOM offices, government institutions, NGOs, the media and journalists, you can write to: eviales@iom.int


Migration and disability in 2020

Migration and disability in 2020
Categoria: Migrant Protection and Assistance
Autor: Laura Manzi

Although calculating the number of people with disabilities in the world is a complicated task, since there are no official records, and also because of other challenges, such as having to distinguish between physical, mental, intellectual or sensory disabilities, according to the WHO estimates, 15% of the world's population lives with disabilities. However, in the discourses related to disability, mentioning the numbers is not so functional, since it should be noted, first, that many people may not recognise or do not consider their condition as a disability, and second, that each person experiences their disability differently.

This is due not only to the other elements that make up their identity, such as gender, age, sexual identity, ethnicity, nationality, which also define the way in which the disability manifests itself and which lessen or aggravate its consequences, but also to the factors that characterize their social position, such as their economic situation, educational level and migratory status (regular or irregular), among others. These factors can affect and limit the capabilities and opportunities of the person with a disability. In this sense, the severity of the disability is partly related to the living conditions and the environment in which the person lives. Migrants living with disabilities face numerous obstacles and suffer greater vulnerability, as they often lack opportunities and adequate attention to their needs and find it more difficult to access health and social security services.

Can the migration process be the cause of disability?

Due to the lack of studies focused on the subject of disability, the literature on the quality of life of migrants living with such a condition is scarce. However, some studies refer to how the migration process itself can also be the cause of disability.

According to a COAMEX report, which is based specifically on the migratory route from Mexico to the United States, during their journey, migrants have to deal with difficult and risky situations that can expose them to the risk of acquiring conditions of disability, especially physical or psychosocial, such as:

  • Getting on or off a moving train (often to flee, avoid arrest, or move more quickly through some sections), which can cause mutilations.
  • Having accidents or suffer the damages of a collision of vehicles in which groups of migrants are in unsafe conditions, or be the victim of violent acts that leave physical contusions.
  • As a result of an experience that can be stressful and traumatic, some migrants suffer from anxiety, panic disorders and post-traumatic stress, which in turn can lead to the development of psychosocial disabilities.

Through a statement, the United Nations also emphasized the vulnerability of migrants to the risk of disability. For example, migrant workers who have lower educational levels or who suffer from labour exclusion in many sectors, often have to deal with dangerous manual work, which expose people to high risk of accidents and consequently to conditions of physical disability.

What does it mean to be a migrant and live with a disability in times of a pandemic?

Reiterating the data and information disseminated by the World Health Organization, the IOM indicates that the risks suffered by people with disabilities (of course, depending on their disability) are due to:

  • Difficulties in complying with some preventive and protective hygiene measures, such as frequent hand washing (in particular, in cases where sinks are physically inaccessible or a person has physical difficulties to properly rub their hands); or putting on masks.
  • Obstacles to access information or maintain social distancing and isolation, since people with disabilities may need daily support from health personnel or family members and acquaintances.
  • People with disabilities can also suffer from more serious COVID-19 infections, due to pre-existing conditions, inability or difficulty in accessing health care services, and ultimately abrupt disruptions in the support systems from which they often benefit.

Migrant with disabilities present greater vulnerabilities to COVID-19, as these situations can be even more harmful when coexisting with other unfavourable conditions, such as lack of social protection, low economic levels, discrimination and social exclusion.

From the outside, it is easy to be able to identify physical disabilities and to make an effort to understand the struggles that the person faces. Less visible, however, are other types of challenges with which these people live, such as social and labour exclusion, stigma, discrimination or the obstacles they encounter when accessing education. These obstacles are doubly harmful for migrants living with disabilities.

For this reason, it is necessary to stimulate a broader and more active conversation about the subject, especially due to a still lacking literature on disability. Institutions, agencies and organizations should be invited to carry out more studies to make the issue visible and lead initiatives. Furthermore, the legislative framework that protects people with disabilities must be strengthened, more innovative solutions have to be discussed and provided, and above all, access to health must be guaranteed to migrants with disabilities.

Social, economic and political inclusion of people with disabilities, although not directly listed as a Sustainable Development Goal, is transversal to many of the goals of the 2030 Agenda and its purpose of ‘leaving no one behind '. From health (SDG 3) to quality education (SDG 4), decent work (SDG 8) and reduction of inequality (SDG 10) among others: the 2030 Agenda sanctions our commitments to achieve the empowerment and full inclusion of people -including migrants- with disabilities.