Measuring ‘Safe’ Migration: Collection of global data on migrant fatalities for Indicator 10.7.3
International Organization for Migration – Global Migration Data Analysis Centre (GMDAC)
United Nations / Multilateral body
The 2030 Agenda’s central promise to “leave no one behind” is exemplified in SDG 10’s call to reduce inequality. The promise of safe migration in SDG Target 10.7 is crucial to reducing inequality and to leaving no one behind. Nonetheless, measuring safe migration is extremely challenging: currently, the only evaluation of this goal is SDG Indicator 10.7.3, the “number of people who died or disappeared in the process of migration towards an international destination.” This indicator, which relies on the data collated by the International Organization for Migration’s Missing Migrants Project (MMP), is the starkest indicator of unsafe migration, with more than 40,000 deaths documented since 2014.
MMP is coordinated by IOM’s Global Migration Data Analysis Centre, where work on SDG Indicator 10.7.2 and other disaggregation work on the SDGs is hosted, and also involves staff across IOM’s regional offices in Africa, Asia and the Americas, as well as extensive support from the organization’s country offices and Media and Communications Department. MMP data is collected from government actors wherever relevant – largely local actors such as medical examiners and coast guards– but this is not available for much of the world. As such, the MMP database relies on a network of non-governmental organizations working on the issue, including those conducting search and rescue on migratory routes or working with families searching for loved ones lost in the context of migration. MMP also uses innovative media monitoring tools in six languages to monitor reports where data coverage is poor. These varied data collection approaches have enabled not only the compilation of the sole global measure of mortality during migration, but collaboration and the identification of best practices on thematic issues relating to migrant deaths and disappearances. These include not only the many data collection challenges but also the identification of migrant remains, the tracing of missing migrants, and addressing the impacts on families searching for missing migrant relatives. MMP frequently publishes reports, briefings, and infographics with analysis of its data and thematic issues. Information that could help those looking for missing migrants is also available on its website. These products, together with the database of incidents have made MMP an information hub for government, media, academics, civil society and the public to inform advocacy and policy on the topic of safe migration.
The MMP database contains records of more than 40,000 people who have died or disappeared during migration worldwide since the project’s inception in 2014. The project data include documents information on the date, location and cause of death, the profile of each decedent if known, and the sources of information for each incident. The project has also produced dozens of reports linked to migrant deaths and disappearances, including its Fatal Journeys series which has been downloaded more than 30,000 times. The MMP dataset is the sole source for SDG Indicator 10.7.3 and provides a tool to better understand safe migration. MMP outputs have been cited by national and international authorities – including the UN Secretary General and the European Commission – and in thousands of academic and news articles. The project’s website [missingmigrants.iom.int] also includes a section on and for families of missing migrants, a group often “left behind” in the discussions on safe migration. This includes new research centred around the challenges faced by families with missing migrant relatives in, as well as resources for families searching for a lost loved one.
The MMP is enabled by its position within the IOM (UN Migration Agency), which operates more than 480 offices worldwide, as well as being coordinated from IOM’s Global Migration Data Analysis Centre. However, MMP data remain at best a minimum estimate of the true number of lives lost due to challenges inherent to documenting irregular migration, but also because of the lack of political will to document these tragedies. Beyond the data, migrant deaths and disappearances continue worldwide largely unabated, representing both a tragedy of unnecessary loss of life and of untold impacts on the families and communities affected by these losses.
MMP’s approach is crucial not only to understanding the risks migrants face on their journeys, but also as an example of innovative approaches to measuring hard-to-access populations invisible in more typical data collection processes. Its leverage of information from stakeholders across sectors and its use of innovative media monitoring tools could be hugely useful in identifying populations “left behind” and in addressing their needs. While MMP has been in operation since 2014, far more remains to be done to address the ongoing crisis of migrant deaths worldwide. A lack of sustainable funding towards research and operational work hampers adequate responses to the many issues linked to migrant deaths and disappearances, which include not just documenting deaths, but also identifying migrant bodies recovered, tracing missing persons cases linked to migration, and ultimately ending the unnecessary loss of life on migratory routes.
The MMP website contains a dataset on migrant deaths, publications on thematic issues related to missing migrants, resources for and about families of missing migrants, and other project documentation: missingmigrants.iom.int MMP Twitter: twitter.com/missingmigrants
Responses to COVID-19 have likely increased the risks of migratory journeys by pushing people into more perilous and deadly situations where humanitarian support and rescue is increasingly unavailable. Yet data collection on deaths and disappearances during migration are increasingly difficult amid the pandemic, as many actors working to prevent migrant deaths or otherwise collect data on missing migrants are no longer able to operate. This is exemplified by the increase in “invisible shipwrecks” on maritime routes to Europe – in which boats carrying migrants have been reported missing but no hard evidence can be found – since the outbreak of COVID-19. MMP data indicate that more than 700 lives may have been lost in such incidents in 2020, though this is nearly impossible to verify.
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MMP relies on a wide network of stakeholders working to protect migrants and to make migration safer for all. The MMP website, dataset and analytical reports are accessed by hundreds of thousands of users each year, and its outputs inform policymakers, civil society organizations, journalists, researchers working at local, national and regional levels on the issue of safe migration.