GENEVA — The year 2014 was the deadliest for migrants on record, the International Organization for Migration said on Tuesday, calling for political leadership and concerted international action to tackle the causes of “desperation migration.”
At least 4,868 people have perished while escaping conflict and hardship so far this year, over double the 2,400 deaths recorded last year, the Geneva-based organization reported.
The agency emphasized that the figures almost certainly underestimated the actual number of fatalities, given the large numbers of people who go missing and are never found.
With anti-foreigner demonstrations in Dresden, Germany, on Monday showcasing the mounting hostility toward immigrants in many parts of Europe, the organization’s director, William Lacy Swing, sought to shift attention to the causes of migration rather than on attempts at deterrence.
“We must address the drivers of desperation migration and act in concerted partnership,” Mr. Swing said in a statement. “We need more political leadership and the courage to counter the worrying rise of xenophobia.”
More than 3,000 migrants drowned trying to cross the Mediterranean with the aid of human traffickers in crowded and often unseaworthy boats, the organization said. The findings were based on interviews with survivors reaching Sicily and on reports of bodies found by coast guards, naval vessels and other agencies.
That toll includes large numbers of Palestinians and Syrians who were fleeing conflicts, as well as migrants escaping repressive governments or economic misery in Africa, and there are fears that termination of the Italian search-and-rescue program Mare Nostrum in November will result in a higher death toll in the months ahead. Its replacement, known as Triton, “while laudable, covers too small an area,” Mr. Swing said.
Another 540 migrants, mostly Rohingya Muslims seeking to escape a severely discriminatory government in Myanmar, died trying to cross the Bay of Bengal, the organization reported.
At least 307 people died this year trying to cross the United States-Mexico border, the American authorities reported, but the organization believed that more migrants died while crossing Mexico, which provided no data, said Joel Millman, a spokesman for the agency. Hundreds more died trying to cross the Red Sea to Yemen from the Horn of Africa in a bid to reach Arab Gulf states that are heavily dependent on imported labor.
International agencies have reported that the number of people forcibly displaced by conflict has reached the highest level since World War II, and they estimate that one in seven people across the globe is a migrant, including 232 million international migrants and about 740 million internal migrants.
Syrians, Eritreans and Afghans topped the list of nationals intercepted while trying to enter the European Union last year, the organization said, citing data from the union’s border management agency, Frontex.
“Migration is not only inevitable, but also necessary and desirable,” Mr. Swing said. The rise of anti-immigrant sentiment is “a cruel irony” at a time when aging societies in the North need migration as a source of labor, he added