During the year 2021, the Missing Migrants Project of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) recorded almost 6,000 deaths of migrants during their migratory transit around the world. In Central America, North America and the Caribbean, 1,100 deaths were documented.
Although the collective imagination does not tend to think that life can be lost during the process of migratory transit, unfortunately every day many people lose their lives on the different migratory routes in our region. In 2021 alone, at least 590 people lost their lives in their migratory transit in North America, approximately 324 in Central America and 180 in the Caribbean.
"Yojana still showed Yefri's photograph, asking neighbors in nearby houses, warehouse owners and street vendors: 'Have you seen this person around here? He is my son and I am looking for him' (...)’ Yojana is aware, as are many mothers, that the clues they were given could be wrong, depending on memory lapses, or the similarity between the faces of the migrants. Still, she hopes that someone's gaze will linger on her son's photo, a selfie in which he wears a baseball cap, a metal necklace, and a flirtatious smile."
The Missing Migrants Project maintains a global open database that records incidents of migrants who have died during their migratory transit. Since 2014 (the year IOM began systematically documenting deaths and disappearances during migration), the Project has documented more than 5,600 migrant deaths in Central America, North America, and the Caribbean.
The following are three recommendations that demonstrate the crucial importance of collecting data on migrant deaths and disappearances during the migration transit process.
1. Formulation of public and migration policy
In several Central American countries, for example, where there are multiple factors for migration (e.g., lack of access to education, medical services, health care, and education), the Project has documented more than 5,600 migrant deaths: lack of access to educational, medical and social security services, political violence, lack of opportunities to access decent employment, high indicators of inequality, hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, delinquency and organized crime) and high levels of migration particularly to the United States, the aspect of missing persons in migratory journeys should be taken into account in the formulation and implementation of migration policies regarding the disappearance of a migrant person, so that the families that are affected by this situation have effective legal instruments to search and a comprehensive legal framework that facilitates this aspect.
Thousands of migrants have disappeared in Central America and Mexico during their migratory journeys to the north of the continent. When a migrant stops communicating with family members, they begin a long search process and often encounter legal and bureaucratic obstacles. In addition, they have to navigate a confusing, complex and generally inaccessible system for most families (IOM, 2021).
It is key that public policies, as well as multilateral policies at the regional and international levels, are specifically directed towards channeling data collection efforts and providing technical and financial cooperation targeted at migrant populations and their families, as part of those coordinated international efforts targeted by Goal 8 of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration.
It should be taken into account that the generation of optimal migration policies based on data and evidence has the capacity to aim at the resolution of concrete problems and the promotion of social integration, as they constitute a relevant tool with a practical character to promote changes in the whole issue of deaths and disappearances during migration.
2. Systematic and organized recording of data on migrant deaths and disappearances
The collection of data in a rigorous, systematic and organized manner by key actors such as governments, research institutes and international cooperation agencies can generate a series of articulated benefits, such as the identification of areas where deaths and disappearances of migrants "hot spots" are frequently recorded along the different migration routes, the determination of the main places where people irregularly cross borders, the knowledge of the places where most people die due to topography, violence, etc.
This systematic recording of information related to the deaths and disappearances of migrants must respond to a collective action, as stated in the SDGs' indicator 10.7.3, which seeks to measure the number of people who die during migratory transit to an international destination.
The harmonization and publication of an anonymized version of the data collected on deaths and disappearances during migration is essential so that this information can be used by other organizations, strategic actors and decision makers (IOM, 2021).
The creation of one (or several) interoperable database(s), that is, aimed at improving the capacity of information systems and data sharing procedures, as well as enabling the exchange of information and knowledge among them, can provide a tool for analyzing recent trends in the field, since the need for systematic information that has an impact on practice and facilitates the management of this type of data must be recognized.
The quality, guarantee and validity of the data collected should be taken into account, as well as the use that will be made of it and the delimitation of the type of data to be collected aimed at documenting deaths and disappearances during migratory transit.
3. Political Advocacy
In several parts of Central America and Mexico, family committees dedicated to the search for their deceased and missing migrant relatives are widely known. They carry out important public demonstrations claiming the right to a dignified search for their loved ones who disappeared during the migratory transit, placing the issue on the political and media agenda.
The accompaniment of family members and the searches carried out by civil society organizations are indispensable for the families of missing migrants (IOM, 2021).
The availability of updated and optimally compiled data could allow them, among other things, to channel efforts towards routes or regions of specific attention in which they work, as well as the formulation of projects to obtain financial or technical cooperation on the issue.
The availability of up-to-date information on the subject will also enable them to direct their strategic actions towards specific objectives in order to achieve greater positioning and visibility of the issue.
Finally, it is necessary to reiterate that, in Central America, North America and the Caribbean, relatively few official bodies are responsible for investigating, compiling and systemizing data on the deaths of migrants.
Efforts should be made to give more visibility to this issue on the public agenda and in the media in order to open spaces for discussion and advocacy to raise awareness among migrants and civil society in transit and destination countries about the risks of irregular migration and the dangers to which migrants who lose their lives every day along the various migratory routes in the region are exposed.
As has been reiterated by the Missing Migrants Project, the loss of life during migratory transit has severe impacts on the families of the people who suffer this situation.
More information at: https://missingmigrants.iom.int/es