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New report highlights need to improve data on dead and missing migrants to better inform policy and public awareness

Press release issued: 12 September 2017

A new report co-edited by Bristol academic Ann Singleton highlights the global scale of deaths and disappearances of people lost during migration.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM), the UN Migration Agency, has released the report on migrant deaths and disappearances worldwide. The report was prepared by its Global Migration Data Analysis Centre (GMDAC) in Berlin with input from the University of Bristol.

The third volume in IOM’s Fatal Journeys series was funded by the UK’s Department for International Development and is published in two parts. Part one of the report examines the challenges of collecting (and improving) data on missing migrants.

Senior Research Fellow at the School for Policy Studies, Ann Singleton, who co-edited Fatal Journeys Volume 3: Improving Data on Missing Migrants, said:

“Since 2014, more than 23,000 migrant deaths and disappearances have been recorded globally by the IOM, although the real number is likely to be significantly higher because many deaths are unrecorded.

“Few bodies of missing migrants are formally identified leaving families in limbo, without perhaps ever knowing whether a loved one is alive or dead.

“The focus of this year’s report is how data on missing migrants can be improved, to inform policies that can prevent further deaths, to meet the needs of families and those left behind to learn more about the fate of their relatives, and to improve the chances of identifying bodies.”

Fatal Journeys Volume 3 – Part 1 provides an update of data on global migrant fatalities since 2014, with a focus on the need to improve data on the deaths of women and children. Data collected by IOM’s Missing Migrants Project, the only existing database on migrant deaths at the global level, are used to present the known number and profile of dead and missing migrants in different regions of the world.

Ann Singleton added: “Improving data on missing migrants is not just a question of collecting more statistics. Better analysis, responsible media reporting and well-grounded research is needed to improve public understanding. For the families left behind it could make a real difference if they are able to find more information on their missing relatives. Better data on migrant fatalities can also help to inform policies aimed at reducing migrant deaths.

“Media reports are important sources of information on the numbers of migrant deaths. The coverage also plays a major role in the framing of policy discourses. Media and journalists’ groups can help people better understand the complex migration story by applying ethical principles, rigour in reporting data and incidents, avoiding crude stereotypes and developing good newsroom practice.

“Better reporting on missing migrants requires care not to dehumanize people, which means following-up of stories, inclusion of the voices of migrants and deeper reflection on the roles of states and the needs of families. “

The new report highlights three key ways in which to improve the collection, sharing and reporting of data on missing migrants.

First, a growing number of innovative sources of data on missing migrants could be used to improve data on migrant fatalities. One chapter of the report shows, for example, that the analysis of “big data” can provide a better understanding of the context of search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean. Other approaches, such as surveying migrants who may have witnessed a death, can improve data in regions where few deaths are currently recorded.

Second, the report stresses that much more could be done to gather data to increase identification rates, such as developing intraregional mechanisms to share data more effectively. One approach highlighted in the report is the work of forensic teams in Latin America, who have been working with NGOs and governments to promote the sharing of data to facilitate the identification of missing migrants.

Third, improving data on missing migrants also requires more thought and improved practice in the use and communication of such data. It is not sufficient to collect data on missing migrants if they are not interpreted and presented accurately and in a balanced manner.

The report also sets out that problems in communicating data can be observed in global media coverage of migrant deaths and disappearances. Current standards of media coverage vary widely, and the tone of the content ranges from humanitarian concern to reproduction of negative narratives about migration.

Part two of the report, to be released in November, provides in-depth regional analysis of the data currently available.

Further information

Ann Singleton is a Senior Research Fellow based in the Centre for the Study of Poverty and Social Justice at the School for Policy Studies. She is a Senior Advisor to the IOM GMDAC and leads, with Frank Laczko (Director of GMDAC), the work of the  Worldwide Universities Network- International Organization for Migration (WUN-IOM) Strategic Alliance.

The United Nations has included migration in its 2030 Global Agenda for Sustainable Development. Improved data on indicators of “unsafe migration” are needed for states to honour their commitment to promote safe, orderly and regular migration.

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