2013 believed to be deadliest for desperate migrants: IOM

Tue Dec 17, 2013 11:17am EST
 
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By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) - More than 7,000 migrants may have perished at sea or while crossing deserts trying to reach a safe haven this year, believed to be the deadliest on record, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said on Tuesday.

In what it called the first global estimate based on data from border agencies and activist groups, the IOM said at least 2,360 migrants died in 2013 chasing the dream of a new life, many having paid smuggling gangs to make the perilous trip.

But that figure, drawn mainly from Western countries which keep and share their data, could be dwarfed by the numbers dying while heading from Africa to the Middle East.

Some 2,000-5,000 Africans are thought to have lost their lives while crossing the Sinai and the Gulf of Aden to reach Yemen, the gateway to rich Gulf Arab states, but no firm figures are available, the IOM said.

"We will never know the true total, as many migrants died anonymously in deserts, in oceans or other accidents," IOM director-general William Lacy Swing said in a statement ahead of International Migrants Day on Wednesday.

Even the conservative figure of 2,360 is higher than last year's newly established estimate of 2,109.

"We believe it is a record. It is more than last year and we think it is a great under-estimate. This isn't science, but it is a wake-up call to look at these numbers. They are tragic," IOM spokesman Leonard Doyle told Reuters.

Many fall victim to closed-door policies in rich countries whose tighter borders have contributed to a human smuggling trade estimated to be worth $35 billion a year, the IOM said.   Continued...

 
African migrants watch a memorial service for the deaths of hundreds of migrants in last week's Lampedusa boat disaster, in Tel Aviv October 12, 2013. REUTERS/Nir Elias