Worst year on record for migrant deaths

Worst year on record for migrant deaths
Migrant group calls for action on International Migrants Day, saying nearly 5,000 people died while seeking better lives in 2014, including 3,000 who perished trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea.
2 min read
18 December, 2014
Thousands of migrants have died before reaching Europe [Getty/AFP]

A record number of migrants died this year in a quest for better lives, a migrant protection group has said.

The International Migration Organisation has urged the world to act to prevent similar tragedies next year.

The organisation said that a death toll of 4,868 recorded in 2014 was twice the previous record, and double the number in 2013.

The worst-affected area was the Mediterranean Sea where more than 3,000 people perished trying to cross from North Africa into Europe on non-seaworthy boats. Many of the dead were Syrians and Libyans fleeing the conflicts in their countries.

Marking the UN's International Migrants Day on Thursday, the IMO's director general William Lacy Swing called for action to stop the toll from rising any further, and criticised limited rescue operations in the Mediterranean.

'Drivers of desperation'

"We must address the drivers of desperation migration and act in concerted and coherent partnership," he said. "All states have the international obligation to save the lives of those seeking help. Rescue operations should continue in the international waters of the Mediterranean. The current operation, Triton, while laudable, covers too small an area."

The Triton programme was set up by the EU after Italy said it could no longer contain or aid the flow of migrants into its southern coasts and islands. However, Triton has a smaller budget than the programme it replaced.

The IOM said it feared the number of deaths at sea could rise, and called on the EU to put in place a comprehensive rescue operation.

Human rights groups and migrants' rights bodies have criticised the European stance on refugees as contradictory to the right to seek asylum from prosecution and conflict as stated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Other dangerous areas for migrants this year included the Bay of Bengal, where 540 people died, and Mexico-US border, where 307 migrants were recorded killed.

Exploitation of refugees

Swing also called for action to stop smugglers from exploiting desparate migrants. Countries must pass laws targeting people-smugglers, not only migrants, he said.

"Governments should de-criminalise irregular migrants so that they can report smugglers to the police for prosecution and contribute to efforts against trans-national organised crime," he says.

"This is a battle we must fight together. We need more political leadership and the courage to counter the worrying rise of xenophobia."

The UN General Assembly in 2000 selected December 18 as International Migrants Day, inviting member states and non-governmental organisations to raise awareness of migrant issues.