Debris washed up on the beach, three days after a boat of migrants sank off the coast of southern Italy, causing 67 people to die. EPA-EFE/CARMELO IMBESI


Deaths on Middle East and North Africa migration routes skyrocket


Almost 3,800 people died on migration routes from the Middle East and North Africa in 2022, the highest number since 2017.

New figures from the UN International Organization for Migration’s (IOM) Missing Migrants Project (MMP) show 3,789 people perished last year. That is an increase of 11 per cent compared to the year before and a rise of more than 60 per cent since 2020.

Those who died attempting to flee the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region made up more than half of the total 6,877 deaths recorded worldwide by the MMP, according to the new report.

The large majority of MENA migrant deaths, more than 2,700, occurred in the Mediterranean Sea, with an increasing number departing from Lebanon and trying to reach Greece and Italy. As many as 84 per cent of those who perished along sea routes remain unidentified, leaving desperate families in search of answers.

In relation to those attempting migratory routes within and from the MENA region, “Our data shows that 92 per cent of people dying on this route remain unidentified,” said Koko Warner, Director of the Global Data Institute hosting the MMP.

The IOM points out that the actual number of deaths is probably much higher than those recorded, given the scarcity of official data and limited access to land routes for international organisations monitoring migration.

“The tragic loss of life on dangerous migration routes highlights the importance of data and analysis in driving action,” said Warner.

Yemen experienced the highest number of fatalities regarding land routes in the MENA region last year, with a sharp rise in targeted violence against migrants. Out of the total 867 recorded deaths on the Horn of Africa-Yemen crossing, approximately 795 individuals, predominantly Ethiopians, lost their lives along the Yemen-Saudi Arabia route. The majority of these deaths occurred in Yemen’s Governorate of Sa’adah region, situated at the northern border.

“This alarming death toll on migration routes within and from the MENA region demands immediate attention and concerted efforts to enhance the safety and protection of migrants,” said Othman Belbeisi, IOM MENA Regional Director.

“IOM urges increased international and regional cooperation as well as resources to address this humanitarian crisis and prevent further loss of lives, in line with Objective 8 of the Global Compact for Migration (GCM).”

Migration in the MENA region is fuelled by wars in Yemen, Syria, and Sudan. In addition, many countries are in dire economic straits, causing people to look for opportunities elsewhere, especially in Europe.

The highest number of deaths in recent years were in 2015 and 2016 when there was an exceptional stream of migrants towards Europa, lured in part by then-German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s insistence that: “Wir Schaffen das” (We can manage this).  More than 4,000 died in the Mediterranean in 2015, and more than 5,000 in 2016.

Now, the European Union is trying to address the issue of migrants coming to Europe with the Migration Pact proposal, which would in principle give Member States more power to deal with migration-related problems nationally.

For those attempting to flee to Europe, the risk remains horrifically high, as illustrated by the latest tragedy in which a boat full of migrants capsized off the Peloponnese coast on June 14, costing the lives of at least 78 people.