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56,800 dead and missing: The hidden toll of migration

The Address | Benghazi – Libya

JOHANNESBURG – As migration rises worldwide, so has its toll: The tens of thousands of people who die or simply disappear during their journeys. Barely counted in life, these migrants rarely register in death — almost as if they never lived at all.

A growing number of migrants have drowned, died in deserts or fallen prey to traffickers, leaving their families to wonder what on earth happened to them. At the same time, anonymous bodies are filling cemeteries in South Africa’s Gauteng province , or in the coastal Tunisian town of Zarzis. Similar cemeteries dot Italy, Greece and Libya.

An Associated Press tally has documented more than 56,800 migrants dead or missing worldwide since 2014 — almost double the number found in the world’s only official attempt to try to count them, by the U.N.’s International Organization for Migration . The IOM toll as of Oct. 1 was more than 28,500. The AP came up with almost 28,300 additional dead or missing migrants by compiling information from other international groups, forensic records, missing persons reports, death records, and examining data from thousands of interviews with migrants.

The official U.N. toll extensively documents deaths in the Mediterranean and Europe, but even there cases fall through the cracks. The political tide is turning against migrants in Europe just as in the United States , where the government is cracking down heavily on caravans of Central Americans trying to get in. One result is that money is drying up for projects to track migration and its costs.

For example, when more than 800 people died in an April 2015 shipwreck off the coast of Italy, Europe’s deadliest migrant sea disaster, Italian investigators pledged to identify them and find their families. More than three years later, under a new populist government, funding for this work has been cut off.

Beyond Europe , information is even more scarce. Even in the U.S., where migration has turned into a hot-button issue, there is no routine effort to figure out where migrants may disappear or die, nor a policy on identifying bodies and notifying families. And little is known about the toll in South America, where the Venezuelan migration is among the world’s biggest today, and in Asia , the top region for numbers of migrants.

The result is that governments vastly underestimate the true toll of migration, a major political and social issue in most of the world today.

Source: AP

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