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IOM: Migrant Deaths Globally Top 32,000 Since 2014

A bag containing the body of a migrant who died after a boat accident off the Libyan coast is seen at Qarabulli town, east of the capital Tripoli, June 2, 2019.

The International Organization for Migration says more than 32,000 migrants worldwide have died or gone missing between 2014 and 2018, with most fatalities occurring on the deadly Mediterranean Sea crossing from North Africa to Europe.

The U.N. migration agency says its global figures underestimate the true nature and extent of the problem as many migrant deaths are never reported and many bodies are never recovered. Nevertheless, researchers say the statistics paint a very grim picture of the perils awaiting the hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants risking their lives in search of protection or a better life.

The report shows nearly 18,000 people have died or gone missing in the Mediterranean between 2014 and 2018. It says the remains of almost two thirds of those victims have not been found.

IOM spokesman, Joel Millman said Rohingya refugees comprise the vast majority of the 2,200 deaths recorded in South-East Asia and most of the 288 deaths recorded in South Asia since 2014 were of Afghan migrants.

"Despite the conflict in Yemen, people continue to attempt the sea crossing from the Horn of Africa across the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. At least 125 people drowned off the shores of Yemen in 2018, compared with 53 in 2017. An increasing number of deaths on the United States—Mexico border have been recorded each year since 2014, with the total we have over the five years is 1,907," he said.

Millman told VOA that the numbers included in IOM's Missing Migrants Project are defined as people in transit. He said there is a separate category for people who die in custody, though exceptions do occur. He said recent cases of people who have died while in custody for less than two hours are included in the current data base.

"In general, in transit is the rule of thumb. But we have had some cases, I think six or seven already this year of recently in custody in the U.S. or recently released from custody that resulted in deaths within a few days and those we parse the best we can in the data base," he said.

A related report recently released by IOM and the U.N. children's fund focuses on the growing number of children embarking on dangerous migrant journeys. The data finds nearly 1,600 children, about one every day, were reported dead or missing between 2014 and 2018. Researchers add the full extent of this tragedy is unknown as many of these migrant child deaths go unrecorded.