Thursday

18th Jan 2018

Investigation

The Migrants' Files: surveying migrants' deaths at Europe's door

  • Catastrophes grab the headlines; smaller incidents often go unreported. (Photo: Nikos Pilos/IPS)

A tide of humanity — people on the run from Africa, the Middle East and Asia — is washing over Europe’s boundaries, and many don’t survive the journey.

The plight of migrants only grabs the media spotlight intermittently. It usually takes a disaster involving death in large numbers to drag this story into the public eye, although in fact it is a story that never ends.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

And the inevitable deaths are ongoing regardless of the attention or inattention they receive.

For example, in early February 2014, at least 15 migrants drowned as hundreds tried to reach the Spanish enclave of Ceuta from Morocco. And one of the most wretched recent incidents, in October 2013, involved the death of over 360 people off the coast of the Italian island of Lampedusa.

Tragedy on this scale demands, and generally gets, the attention of the broad public and political leaders. During his visit to Lampedusa after the October 2013 disaster, José Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission, proclaimed, “The European Union cannot accept that thousands of people die at its borders.” Malta's Prime Minister Joseph Muscat also issued a statement after the tragedy, warning that the Mediterranean risked turning into a “cemetery” for desperate migrants.

These well-publicised incidents, and the bursts of engagement from politicians and officials that follow, highlight the conflict at the heart of Europe's asylum and migration policies: on the one hand, the authorities acknowledge the humanitarian imperative of saving lives at Europe’s borders while at the same time they vigorously apply politically driven policies that restrict migration. In the end, the dynamics that put so many lives at risk remain unaltered.

Deaths and disappearances: the known and the unknown

Catastrophes grab the headlines; smaller incidents often go unreported. Any reliable overview of migrants’ deaths has been difficult if not impossible to achieve, until now. Thanks to The Migrants' Files, compiled by a consortium of more than 10 European journalists, the most comprehensive and rigorous database on migrant fatalities ever assembled is now up and running. Their assessment is shocking: since the beginning of the century more than 23,000 people have died or vanished attempting to enter Europe.

Their approach was to use “open-source intelligence” (OSINT), a method originated by the intelligence services, acquiring data from publicly available resources such as news media, public data or grey literature. This material has now been collected, screened, cross-checked, analysed and registered in one database.

The main data sources for The Migrants' Files are United for Intercultural Action, a non-profit which coordinates a network of over 550 organisations across Europe, as well as Fortress Europe, founded by the journalist and author Gabriele Del Grande, which monitors the deaths and disappearances of migrants to Europe. The Migrants' Files' database also uses data from Puls, a project run by the University of Helsinki, Finland and commissioned by the Joint Research Center of the European Commission.

The findings of The Migrants' Files data mining have been eye-opening. The number of fatalities suffered by migrants on their journey to Europe turns out to be much higher than previously believed. Earlier estimates had ranged from 17,000 to 19,000 victims since the early 1990s. However, the estimated number including carefully assessed undocumented cases is indisputably higher.

Shifting routes make data more difficult to collect

The Migrants' Files data indicates that migration flows vary between sea and land routes according to season, flaring or ebbing depending on local conflicts and war zones, as well as the preferences of human traffickers. In recent years, the European Union has concluded a series of bilateral agreements with various north and west African countries and has undertaken several measures to tighten border security along Europe’s borders. As these measures came on stream, the routes taken by migrants shifted from Spain, to Italy and then Greece, underscoring the dynamic, adaptable nature of migrant flows.

Frontex is the European Union’s border security coordination system. Its Operation Poseidon aims at tightening border controls between Greece and Turkey. In addition, on its own, Greece added some 1800 police officers to patrol its border with Turkey in response to the rising flood of migrants attempting to cross that border in the period from 2008 to 2012.

The number of migrants observed travelling overland from Turkey into Greece subsequently fell from more than 55,500 in 2011 to just over 12,000 in 2013. Meanwhile, the sea route between these two eastern Mediterranean neighbours saw an increase in detected emigrants from less than 1,500 to over 11,000 in the same period, an eightfold increase.

At the moment, a growing number of migrants are making their way to Europe via the Greek islands and, once again, Italy. Since the land route from the Horn of Africa through Sinai into Israel has been cut, the sea journey between Libya and Lampedusa has lately returned to favour among the traffickers, who claim to arrange passage for paying migrants.

As a jumping-off point, Libya is currently one of the main hubs for migrants wishing to enter Europe. Libya’s lack of effective law enforcement, reflecting the country’s growing power vacuum, only makes the situation of migrants more precarious.

Data from Frontex backs those findings but Frontex does not track dead or missing migrants, nor does Eurosur, the European Border Surveillance System or the International Organisation for Migration (IOM). Data on dead and missing migrants risks being lost. Using open-source intelligence and carefully sifting other relevant information sources, The Migrants' Files is committed to supplying this vital information.

The Migrants' Files is a project by datajournalism agencies Journalism++ SAS, Journalism++ Stockholm and Dataninja ; media outlets Neue Zürcher Zeitung, El Confidencial, Sydsvenskan and Radiobubble as well as freelance journalists Jean-Marc Manach and Jacopo Ottaviani. The project is partially financed by JournalismFund.eu.

Investigation

The ECB: EU's 'bad bank' (for its employees)

An internal report finds 'lack of staff' and high 'burnout' levels at the European Central Bank in Frankfurt - the bank trusted with keeping the eurozone stable and secure.

Investigation

After spending €587 million, EU has zero CO2 storage plants

The EU has spent at least €587 million so far on carbon capture and storage, and was willing to spend millions more. However, after a decade not a single power plant in the EU is currently using the technology.

Investigation

The discreet banker of Africa development

The European Investment Bank has grown, largely unnoticed, into the world's largest lender and borrower, but who is really in charge is anyone's guess.

Investigation

Sex and lies: Russia's EU news

France and Germany have been targeted for years with fake news and lies designed to incite sexual revulsion toward migrants and the politicians who gave them shelter.

Investigation

How the Italian mafia found a Dutch home

One of the biggest mafia trials in Europe in recent years is about to end. Members of the Crupi clan are accused of smuggling vast amounts of cocaine from South America to Italy, using the Netherlands as their main hub.

Investigation

How Romania became an EU workers' rights 'guinea pig'

"We are paid as if we were a country of unqualified workers". Union leaders and labour rights experts reveal, in figures, the catastrophic consequences of the laws that have turned Romania into the country of the working poor.

Investigation

The mysterious German behind Orban's Russian deals

Klaus Mangold, a German businessman with good connections in Russia, and who provided a jet for Commission vice-president Guenther Oettinger, played a crucial role in Hungary's controversial Paks nuclear deal with Russia, Direkt36's investigation has found.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Solutions for Sustainable Cities: New Grants Awarded for Branding Projects
  2. Mission of China to the EUTrade Between China, Belt and Road Countries up 15%
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersOresund Inspires Other EU Border Regions to Work Together to Generate Growth
  4. Mission of China to the EUTrade Between China, Belt and Road Countries up 15%
  5. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Calls on EU to Sanction Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, Expel Ambassadors
  6. Dialogue PlatformRoundtable on "Political Islam, Civil Islam and The West" 31 January
  7. ILGA EuropeFreedom of Movement and Same-Sex Couples in Romania – Case Update!
  8. EU2017EEEstonia Completes First EU Presidency, Introduced New Topics to the Agenda
  9. Bio-Based IndustriesLeading the Transition Towards a Post-Petroleum Society
  10. ACCAWelcomes the Start of the New Bulgarian Presidency
  11. Mission of China to the EUPremier Li and President Tusk Stress Importance of Ties at ASEM Summit
  12. EU2017EEVAT on Electronic Commerce: New Rules Adopted

Latest News

  1. EU 'hypocrisy' condemns people to Libya, says NGO
  2. Next year's EU election at risk of Russian meddling
  3. Hungary to tax NGOs that 'help' migration
  4. Cyprus, Malta, and Russia gang up on whistleblower
  5. 'No backsliding' on Brexit promise, Irish PM warns
  6. Commission and council dig in on GMO opt-outs
  7. Ombudsman asks ECB chief to quit secret bankers group
  8. Polish Nazi-jibe MEP 'spams' EU inboxes

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Jewish CongressChair of EU Parliament Working Group on Antisemitism Condemns Wave of Attacks
  2. Counter BalanceA New Study Challenges the Infrastructure Mega Corridors Agenda
  3. Dialogue PlatformThe Gülen Community: Who to Believe - Politicians or Actions?" by Thomas Michel
  4. Plastics Recyclers Europe65% Plastics Recycling Rate Attainable by 2025 New Study Shows
  5. European Heart NetworkCommissioner Andriukaitis' Address to EHN on the Occasion of Its 25th Anniversary
  6. ACCACFOs Risk Losing Relevance If They Do Not Embrace Technology
  7. UNICEFMake the Digital World Safer for Children & Increase Access for the Most Disadvantaged
  8. European Jewish CongressWelcomes Recognition of Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel and Calls on EU States to Follow Suit
  9. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Boost Innovation Cooperation Under Horizon 2020
  10. European Gaming & Betting AssociationJuncker’s "Political" Commission Leaves Gambling Reforms to the Court
  11. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Applauds U.S. Recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital City
  12. EU2017EEEU Telecom Ministers Reached an Agreement on the 5G Roadmap

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Friends of ArmeniaEU-Armenia Relations in the CEPA Era: What's Next?
  2. Mission of China to the EU16+1 Cooperation Injects New Vigour Into China-EU Ties
  3. EPSUEU Blacklist of Tax Havens Is a Sham
  4. EU2017EERole of Culture in Building Cohesive Societies in Europe
  5. ILGA EuropeCongratulations to Austria - Court Overturns Barriers to Equal Marriage
  6. Centre Maurits CoppietersCelebrating Diversity, Citizenship and the European Project With Fundació Josep Irla
  7. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceUnderstanding the Social Consequences of Obesity
  8. Union for the MediterraneanMediterranean Countries Commit to Strengthening Women's Role in Region
  9. European Heart NetworkThe Time Is Ripe for Simplified Front-Of-Pack Nutrition Labelling
  10. Counter BalanceNew EU External Investment Plan Risks Sidelining Development Objectives
  11. Dialogue PlatformThe Turkey I No Longer Know
  12. World Vision7 Million Children at Risk in the DRC: Donor Meeting to Focus on Saving More Lives