New data shows refugees and migrants face violence, abuse and death along routes across Africa — Global Issue

New Data report By the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees: United Nations High Commissioner for RefugeesUnited Nations Migration Agency International Organization for Migration The Mixed Migration Centre (MMC) focuses on the underreported dangers faced by vulnerable people travelling along dangerous land routes.

Abuse along the route

“Migrants and refugees, regardless of their status, appear to be facing serious human rights violations and abuses along their journey… We must not lose our sense of outrage at this level of violence,” said Vincent Cochetel, UNHCR’s special envoy for the Western and Central Mediterranean.

More people are estimated to cross the Sahara Desert than the Mediterranean Sea, and the number of refugee and migrant deaths in the desert is estimated to be twice as many as those at sea. “On this journey, no one cares if you live or die”, the report, which covers a three-year data collection period, warns that the number of people attempting these dangerous land crossings is on the rise.

Highlighting that the central Mediterranean migration route remains one of the most dangerous in the world, Laurence Hart, Director of IOM’s Mediterranean Coordination Office, noted that “so many people” still risk embarking on “very dangerous journeys”. “Of course, there are many who do not choose to migrate, but who are forced to do so because of… political conflict and instability.”

Push factors

So-called push factors on migration routes include deteriorating conditions in origin and host countries, including renewed conflicts in the Sahel and Sudan, the devastating impacts of climate change and disasters on new long-term emergencies in East Africa and the Horn of Africa, and racism and xenophobia against refugees and migrants.

The report notes that significant gaps in protection and assistance exist along the Central Mediterranean route, forcing refugees and migrants to continue dangerous journeys.

“We heard last week that 5,000 people have died on the Atlantic route to the Canary Islands in the first five months of this year, a 700 percent increase compared to the same period last year,” said Bram Fruus, director of the Mixed Migration Center (MMC). “And while we don’t have the exact figures, we know that countless more have died on the land route to the Mediterranean coast, possibly even more than at sea.”

Insufficient effort

Despite international promises to save lives and address weaknesses, the report’s authors warned that current efforts to hold everyone accountable for the abuses and dangers migrants and refugees face fall short. Criminal groups and traffickers are often responsible for egregious abuses, but “government actors such as police, military and border patrols” also play a role, Fruss said. “But whoever they are, whatever category they may be, they must be held accountable. Yet at the moment, much of this is happening with almost total impunity.”

The report noted that smuggling routes are shifting to more remote areas to avoid conflict zones and border controls by state and non-state actors, putting people on the move at even greater risk.

Reported types of abuses included torture, physical violence, arbitrary detention, killing, kidnapping for ransom, sexual violence and exploitation, enslavement, human trafficking, forced labour, organ removal, robbery, arbitrary detention, collective expulsion and exile.

Strengthening life-saving protections

The report notes that due to a lack of funding and limited humanitarian access, victims of various forms of abuse have little access to assistance or justice anywhere along the route, particularly in key locations such as informal detention and detention centers.

Despite these challenges, partners including UNHCR, IOM, NGOs and several governments have stepped up life-saving protection services, assistance, identification and referral mechanisms along the flight routes, but they argue that humanitarian action alone is not enough.

“It is important to consider how to regularise and legalise migration in transit countries, where necessary, and also further afield in European countries, in response to manpower and labour demands,” said the IOM’s Hart. “Opening up regular routes is certainly not a silver bullet, but it is certainly an enabler. It is another element, another pillar on which migration management depends.”


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