Deadliest year on record for migrants with nearly 8,600 deaths in 2023

The Mediterranean crossing continues to be the deadliest route for migrants on record, with at least 3,129 deaths and disappearances.

At least 8,565 people died on migration routes worldwide in 2023, making it the deadliest year on record, according to data collected by IOM’s Missing Migrants Project. The 2023 death toll represents a tragic increase of 20 per cent compared to 2022, highlighting the urgent need for action to prevent further loss of life.  

“As we mark the Missing Migrants Project’s ten years, we first remember all these lives lost. Every single one of them is a terrible human tragedy that reverberates through families and communities for years to come,” said IOM Deputy Director General Ugochi Daniels. “These horrifying figures collected by the Missing Migrants Project are also a reminder that we must recommit to greater action that can ensure safe migration for all, so that 10 years from now, people aren’t having to risk their lives in search of a better one.”  

Last year’s total surpasses the number of dead and missing globally in the previous record year of 2016, when 8,084 people died during migration, making it the deadliest year since the Missing Migrants Project's inception in 2014. As safe and regular migration pathways remain limited, hundreds of thousands of people attempt to migrate every year via irregular routes in unsafe conditions. Slightly more than half of the deaths were a result of drowning, with nine per cent caused by vehicle accidents, and seven per cent by violence. 

The Mediterranean crossing continues to be the deadliest route for migrants on record, with at least 3,129 deaths and disappearances. This is the highest death toll recorded in the Mediterranean since 2017. Regionally, unprecedented numbers of migrant deaths were recorded across Africa (1,866) and Asia (2,138). In Africa, most of these deaths occurred in the Sahara Desert and the sea route to the Canary Islands. In Asia, hundreds of deaths of Afghan and Rohingya refugees fleeing their countries of origin were recorded last year. 

In 2024, ten years since the establishment of the Missing Migrants Project as the only open-access database on migrant deaths and disappearances, the project has documented more than 63,000 cases worldwide. The true figure, however, is estimated to be much higher due to challenges in data collection particularly in remote locations such as the Darien National Park in Panama and on maritime routes, where IOM regularly records reports of invisible shipwrecks where boats disappear without a trace. 

Established in 2014 following two devastating shipwrecks off the coast of Lampedusa, Italy, the Missing Migrants Project is recognized as the sole indicator measuring the level of 'safety' of migration in the Sustainable Development Goals and the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration.  

An upcoming report provides detailed analysis of missing migrants' data from 2023 and key facts and figures on migrant deaths and disappearances over the last ten years. It provides an opportunity for IOM and partners to assess ongoing work to expand safe and regular migration pathways, enhance search and rescue operations, and support affected individuals and families. IOM, alongside many other organizations, and as Coordinator of the UN Network on Migration, calls on governments and the international community to continue working together to prevent further loss of life and uphold the dignity and rights of all individuals.