16 March 2012

Documenting Migrant Deaths at Sea

UNHCR reported recently that 1500 people "drowned or went missing last year [2011] while attempting crossings of the Mediterranean Sea." The actual number may be even higher; a spokesperson for the agency noted that "Our estimates are based on interviews with people who reached Europe on boats, telephone calls and e-mails from relatives, as well as reports from Libya and Tunisia from survivors whose boats either sank or were in distress in the early stages of the journey."

Sites that track those who perish at sea, at least in the European context, include:

- The Migrants at Sea blog uses the tag "deaths at sea" to index posts that report deaths of boat people.
- The Fortress Europe blog maintains a page listing deaths along the borders of Europe since 1988.
- PICUM's Bulletins regularly include a "death at border" sub-section under "Borders."
- UNITED has compiled a "List of Deaths" (1993-present) that have occurred as a result of "Fortress Europe" policies (more info.; see also map).

These data are primarily compiled from press reports and therefore are likely to be incomplete. This article discusses the challenges of "recording and identifying" migrant deaths; it is based on earlier articles in New Europe and in the European Journal of Migration Law. A more recent conference paper entitled "European Border Control and the Right to Life" reviews the data from UNITED and compares them with information available through local death registries in southern Italy in order to investigate the larger question of whether or not European states have a responsibility for reducing the number of deaths that occur on their borders. (See also "The Human Costs of Border Control.")

The human costs are documented in other ways as well; see, for example:
- Mare Morto, which captures images of boats destroyed along the coast of Italy;
- "The Price of Freedom," a yet-to-be-made documentary that will focus on Tunisians who are missing after attempting to cross by boat to Europe; and
- "Life and Death on the High Seas: Haunting a Community" in Griffin Review, no. 35, Autumn 2012, which "explores the conflicting narratives of the Janga, the boat, its crew and its passengers involved in the Christmas Island tragedy of December 2010" (Australia not Europe).

Tagged Publications.

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