One in Three Migrant Deaths Occurs En route While Fleeing Conflict: IOM Report

Otilia, a Honduran mother, looks at a portrait of her son Arnold who disappeared while migrating through Mexico. Photo: © IOM Honduras/Ismael Cruceta 2023.

Geneva/Berlin, 26 March – As the International Organization for Migration's (IOM) Missing Migrants Project marks its ten-year milestone, a new report reveals alarming trends in migrant deaths and disappearances over the past decade.   

More than one-third of deceased migrants whose country of origin could be identified come from countries in conflict or with large refugee populations, highlighting the dangers faced by those attempting to flee conflict zones without safe pathways.   

However, the information on the identities of missing migrants is highly incomplete. Among the report’s key findings is the high number of unidentified deaths. More than two-thirds of migrants whose deaths were documented remain unidentified, leaving families and communities grappling with the ambiguous loss of their loved ones. This underscores the need for better coordinated data collection and identification processes to provide closure to affected families.  

“Despite the many lives lost whose identities remain unknown, we know that almost 5,500 females have perished on migration routes during the last ten years and the number of identified children is nearly 3,500,” said Ugochi Daniels, IOM Deputy Director General for Operations. “The toll on vulnerable populations and their families urges us to turn the attention on the data into concrete action.”  

The report, A Decade of Documenting Migrant Deaths, looks back at the last ten years, with more than 63,000 deaths and disappearances documented during migration over that period – and more deaths recorded in 2023 than in any prior year. These figures demonstrate the urgent need for strengthened search and rescue capacities, facilitation of safe, regular migration pathways, and evidence-based action to prevent further loss of life. Action should also include intensified international cooperation against unscrupulous smuggling and trafficking networks. 

When the IOM’s Missing Migrants Project began in 2014, information was collected almost exclusively from news articles on a simple spreadsheet. Ten years later, data collection has improved dramatically, but the reality for migrants forced to take dangerous routes has not.  

Today, the Missing Migrants Project remains the only global open-access database on migrant deaths and disappearances, compiling information from wide-ranging sources including key informants from governments, UN officials, and civil society organizations.   


Note to Editors  

Key findings from the report include:  

Drowning as the Leading Cause of Death: Nearly 60 per cent of deaths documented during migration are linked to drowning with over 27,000 related deaths in the Mediterranean alone. The report emphasizes the necessity of enhancing search and rescue capacities to save lives at sea and underscores the importance of working with governments to facilitate safer migration routes.  

Underreporting of Migrant Deaths: The more than 63,000 deaths and disappearances recorded during migration over the past decade are likely only a fraction of the actual number of lives lost worldwide. The report highlights the need for improved data collection efforts to accurately assess the scale of the issue and address the broader challenges of unsafe migration. There are more than 37,000 dead for whom no information on sex or age is available, indicating that the true number of deaths of women and children is likely far higher.  

Rising Death Toll: Despite political commitments and media attention, migrant deaths are on the rise, with 2023 marking the highest annual death toll on record when over 8,500 deaths were recorded. So far in 2024, the trends are no less alarming. In the Mediterranean alone, while arrivals this year are significantly lower (16,818) compared to the same period in 2023 (26,984), the number of deaths are nearly as high as last year.  

Increased Political Attention: An increasing number of global, regional and national initiatives and instruments advocate for action on missing migrants. Data from the Missing Migrants Project are used as a measure of (lack of) progress toward the SDG Agenda’s goal of safe migration. The UN Secretary-General’s 2022 Progress Declaration on the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly, and Regular Migration underscores the crucial role of governments in preventing migrant deaths and calls for actionable recommendations to improve international coordination and humanitarian assistance. These recommendations, due to be released in 2024, will provide a global roadmap for addressing the ongoing crisis.  

IOM’s new Strategic Plan 2024-2028 highlights saving lives and protecting people on the move as its first objective, but we cannot do it alone. We call on States and other partners to join us in our work to end migrant deaths and address the impacts of the tens of thousands of lives lost on migratory routes worldwide.  

The full report is available for download here. The report also comes with a data annex for key figures 2014-2023, available here.   

Press Briefing: Today 26 March (2pm CET), IOM’s Global Data Institute is hosting its first quarterly media briefing with a focus on the Missing Migrants Project report. Journalists are welcome to register here.   


For more information, please contact:  

Jorge Galindo, Tel: +4915226216775, Email:  


This article was originally published at 


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