• Edwin Viales

The disappearance of a migrants shouldn´t be seen as a daily situation or naturally implicit consequence in migratory journeys because no one should die in search of improving their life opportunities. However, as the year 2022 ends, during that period, an average of 3 deaths of migrants have been recorded in the Americas every day.

The Caribbean is one of the subregions mostly hit by this ongoing tragedy. During 2022, the IOM Missing Migrants Project has documented 269 deaths and disappearances of migrants in the region, the highest number recorded since the collection of these figures began in 2014. Of these deaths and disappearances, 27 correspond to children and adolescents and 61 to women.

The leading cause of death for migrants in the Caribbean is drowning in shipwrecks along the multiple irregular maritime migration routes that cross this region. Migration routes in the Caribbean are characterized by extreme weather conditions that make navigation difficult, artisanal vessels in poor condition and scant media coverage. Given these factors, it is highly probable that “invisible shipwrecks” will occur, of which neither the official authorities nor the media are aware of.

Most of the registered incidents involving the death and disappearance of migrants in the Caribbean occur on the routes that lead to the United States, from the Dominican Republic to Puerto Rico, from Haiti to the Dominican Republic, and from Venezuela to various Caribbean islands. Many Venezuelan migrants use various maritime routes to the Antilles that depart from ports such as Güiria and Falcón, in the Venezuelan Caribbean. There have also been disappearances in the maritime route parallel to the cross-border zone between Colombia and Panama, passing through the Gulf of Necoclí, Cabo Tiburón, La Miel and Puerto Obaldía in the Panamanian Caribbean.

A Cuban, the only survivor among six migrants of a shipwreck, recently recounted the terrifying experience of migrating on these dangerous routes:

“The boat capsizes five times, they lose their meager supplies, and panic and cold overwhelm them. Fear reaches the bones, clothes soaked, the vertigo of the waves (...) Josué Gabriel vomits, Karen cries inconsolably, terrified. The wind beats furiously and the clouds, between gray and black, close off the landscape, as if they were going to bury her alive. "She was thinking of going back, that she couldn't take it anymore, but we were already very far away," says Julio César. 'She wanted to jump into the water and we couldn't convince her. We tore off a piece of the raft and gave it to him. Her brother threw himself with her ’. [...] 'I saw them from above, when I was at the tip of the wave, until the water swallowed them.

The persistent challenges

The high number of deaths and disappearances of migrants registered on this migratory route and testimonies collected from the migrants themselves indicate that countless mortal remain in the Caribbean waters that haven´t been recovered or identified. This situation places the families of these missing migrants in a painful limbo.

For the IOM, it is necessary to make greater international efforts to save the lives of migrants who transit these routes, as indicated in objective 8 of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration. The organization also recommends improving the systematic collection of data that makes it possible to show the real dimension of these deaths and disappearances. The Disappeared Migrants Project has produced multiple research reports to make this situation visible, which can be consulted on the website of the Missing Migrants Project.