Counting the Dead: How Registered Deaths of Migrants in the Southern European Sea Border Provide Only a Glimpse of the Issue

Publication Year
Europe and Central Asia
Thematic Area
Families / Forensics / Law & Policies / Mechanisms / The Search Process
Identification / Management of the Dead / Migration / Recovery of remains / Excavation / Exhumation / Rescue at sea

According to the International organization for migration (IOM), more than 20,000 migrants disappeared while crossing the Mediterranean and Atlantic ocean to Europe between 2014 and 2019. The attached report, coordinated by the ICRC Paris regional delegation forensics team, reveals that only 13% of these migrants’ remains were buried in Southern European border countries (Greece, Italy, and Spain). Many of which remain unfortunately not identified and anonymous. This is an ongoing humanitarian tragedy, with scores of families in pain waiting for answers.

Beyond mapping the burial sites of migrants in Southern Europe, this report analyses the medico-legal systems in Greece, Italy, and Spain and formulates recommendations to improve them. States have obligations to prevent disappearances, search for the missing, identify the human remains, and inform families.

This report also outlines new methods to tackle the specificities of disappearance along the migratory southern routes to Europe. Information gathering and sharing between both States and non-governmental actors are vital to improving the identification process of deceased migrants and information to their families. The Red Cross and Red Crescent movement remain committed to helping these families find answers.