2019: A deadly year for migrants crossing the Americas

© UNICEF/Balam-ha Carrillo A boy plays in a UNICEF-supported shelter in Tijuana, Mexico, where migrant children from Mexico and Central America are provided psychosocial support. (June 2019)

This article is brought to you in association with the United Nations.


More than 800 people died last year crossing deserts, rivers and remote lands while migrating across the Americas, making 2019 one of deadliest years on record, the UN migration agency said on Tuesday.

Data from the Missing Migrants Project (MMP), collected at the International Organization for Migration’s (IOM) Data Analysis Centre in Berlin, indicate that it was the highest number of deaths documented in this region since IOM began keeping records six years ago.

Since 2014, more than 3,800 deaths have been recorded across the continent.

“These numbers are a sad reminder that the lack of options for safe and legal mobility pushes people onto more invisible and riskier paths, putting them at greater danger”, said Frank Laczko, Director of IOM’s Data Analysis Centre.

“The loss of lives should never be normalized nor tolerated as an assumed risk of irregular migration.”

Close to 2,500 deaths since 2014

The region surrounding the United States–Mexico border is one of the deadliest for migrants, with the number growing each year. The MMP has documented a total of 2,403 deaths since 2014, including 497 in 2019.

Most were recorded in the waters of the Río Bravo/Rio Grande river, which runs between the Texas border and the Mexican states of Tamaulipas, Nuevo León and Coahuila, where 109 people lost their lives last year.

This represents a 26 per cent increase from the 86 deaths recorded in 2018.

Many people also attempt crossing through the remote rugged terrain of the vast Arizona desert region, where at least 171 people died in 2019 – a 29 per cent jump over the 133 deaths documented in this area in 2018.

Missing Migrants Project data are compiled by IOM staff based at its Global Migration Data Analysis Centre but come from a variety of sources, some of which are unofficial.

Top destination: US

Back in November, IOM reported that 2019 saw an estimated 270 million migrants crossing international borders, and, at nearly 51 million, the United States was the most desirable destination.

News reports have painted pictures of desperate asylum-seekers giving up their children at the border, hoping that they may have a better life. Some migrant parents have sent their unaccompanied children across the border to surrender to US agents.

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