According to figures released on Tuesday by the U.N. migration agency, the U.S.-Mexico border stands as the most lethal terrestrial migration route in the world, witnessing countless lives lost due to hazardous desert traversals.
Last year, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) recorded 686 deaths and disappearances of migrants at this border. However, the actual count could be even more significant due to gaps in data collection, including missing reports from Texas border county coroner’s offices and the Mexican search and rescue agency.
Migrants, amidst vast deserts, canyons, and hills dotted with cacti, succumb to summer’s extreme heat and winter’s frigid cold, as noted by U.S. border authorities. Many remain undiscovered.
Paul Dillon, IOM’s spokesperson, commented that their statistics are “the lowest estimates available.” Emphasizing the situation’s urgency, he urged establishing “regular legal migration pathways.”
Nearly 50 percent of the deaths registered by IOM in the previous year were associated with the Sonoran and Chihuahuan Deserts.
Remarkably, the fatalities and disappearances documented by the IOM at this border account for nearly half of the 1,457 cases noted across the Americas in the same year.
Dillon drew attention to an escalating death rate along Caribbean migration routes, which was especially troubling. He indicated that in 2022, 350 deaths were documented, an increase from 245 in 2021 and considerably more than the figures from preceding years. Most of these victims were from the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Cuba.
IOM’s Displacement Tracking Matrix surveys of individuals who completed the crossing indicated that 4 percent of participants stated that a fellow traveler had disappeared during the journey. Though this data may not be wholly representative, it is deeply troubling given the influx of 250,000 people into Panama through the Darien in 2022 and the more significant number, approximately 340,000, undertaking the passage in 2023.
The IOM reported 141 migrant deaths in the Darien Gap, a treacherous jungle boundary between Panama and Colombia. Given the area’s isolated and dangerous nature, coupled with the activity of criminal groups, Dillon posits that the actual number of fatalities could be much higher.
Panama recently introduced initiatives to regulate the increasing number of migrants passing through the Darien Gap, which witnessed an unprecedented surge this year.