Last year was the deadliest for migrants in the Middle East and North Africa since 2017, the United Nations’ migration agency reported Tuesday.
About 3,800 people died on sea and land migration routes within and from the Middle East-North Africa region, according to data released by the International Organization for Migration’s (IOM) Missing Migrants Project.
The number is 11% higher compared to 2021 and the highest since 2017, when the project documented the deaths of 4,255 people in the region. The 2022 data show that the region, often referred to by the acronym MENA, accounted for more than half of the 6,877 deaths the project documented worldwide last year.
“This alarming death toll on migration routes within and from the MENA region demands immediate attention and concerted efforts to enhance the safety and protection of migrants,” Othman Belbeisi, the International Organization for Migration’s director for the region.
The project said the true tally was likely much higher given the scarcity of official data and limited access to land routes in the region for civil society and international organizations.
On the region’s land routes, the Missing Migrants Project documented over 1,025 deaths, while the rest occurred on sea routes to Europe, particularly in the central Mediterranean Sea.
Most of the people who died traveling by land took place in war-torn Yemen, where the IOM said “targeted violence against migrants has intensified.”
At least 795 people, mostly Ethiopians, lost their lives on a route between Yemen and Saudi Arabia, according to the Missing Migrants Project. Most of the deaths occurred in northern Yemen’s Saada province, a stronghold for the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen.
East African migrants used to cross the Bab-Al Mandab, the 31-mile (50-kilometer) strait separating Djibouti and Yemen, on small boats, aiming to cross Yemen into neighboring Saudi Arabia and then move on to other wealthy Arab Gulf states in search of work. The report cited an October shipwreck off Yemen’s Mayyun island which killed at least 28 people.
Libya, which has in recent years become a transit point for Europe-bound migrants who fled wars and poverty in the Middle East and Africa, had 117 deaths on land routes, and neighboring Algeria had 54, the data showed.
More than 800 people died in the Mediterranean Sea off chaos-stricken Libya in 2022, the report said. At least 713 of them perished in 46 known shipwrecks, and the bodies of 94 migrants washed ashore but could not be linked to any of the wrecks. it added.
Most of the deaths were reported off towns in western Libya, including Sabratha, Zuwara and Garabulli, which for years have been launching points for migrant boats heading to Europe, the report said.
The IOM’s report also highlighted increasing sea crossing attempts from Lebanon to Greece. It said at least 174 people reportedly died while making that trip last year.
The West Africa-Atlantic route to Spain’s Canary Islands, with boats primarily departing from Northern Africa, claimed a further 559 lives last year, a decrease from 2021, when at least 1,126 people reportedly died during their voyages, the data showed.