Despite lockdowns to stem the resurgence of coronavirus, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said on Friday that it has recorded 3,174 deaths on migratory routes worldwide, but the toll is likely higher due to “invisible shipwrecks.” 

Speaking to journalists at a virtual briefing on UN International Migrants Day in Geneva, IOM spokesman Paul Dillon said though the overall number of people known to have lost their lives in 2020 is lower than the previous year’s 5,327 deaths, some routes saw an increase in fatalities.

“The decrease in recorded deaths is not necessarily an indication that the number of lives lost truly dropped in 2020,” Dillon noted.

The IOM’s Missing Migrants Project is aware of at least 14 invisible shipwrecks that claimed at least 600 lives that are not included in this year’s report, the IOM spokesman said.

“These are tragedies where evidence exists that a vessel sank, but there is insufficient proof to corroborate the information received from family members, or from NGOs who scrupulously document these cases,” Dillon said.

COVID-19 also challenges the ability to collate data on deaths during migration and to monitor specific migration routes.

At least 1,773 migrants died within and on their way to Europe this year, making up most fatalities recorded worldwide, a trend that had continued since 2014, when the Missing Migrants Project began collecting data.

Most notably this year at least 593 people have died on route to Spain’s Canary Islands thus far, compared with 210 recorded in 2019 and 45 in 2018, the IOM spokesman said.

“Despite more than 90,000 COVID-19 related travel and mobility restrictions imposed around the world, tens of thousands of people in desperate situations continue to embark on dangerous journeys across deserts, jungles, and seas,” said Dillion.

“Behind each of these numbers, a family is mourning the loss of a father and a mother, a daughter, or a son. People are continuing to make these journeys despite the unprecedented nature of the mobility restrictions in place,” he said.

The grim toll underlines the need for more safe, predictable, and legal migration options, the spokesman urged.

Some 381 men, women, and children also lost their lives on the United States-Mexico border.

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