Risky journeys

Our reporting – from Libya to Turkey to the US-Mexico border – documents how stricter policies and closed borders impact migration routes, sometimes with fatal consequences. 

What makes people take such extreme risks? “You have to understand, that no one would put their children in a boat unless the sea is safer than the land,” writes British-Somali poet Warsan Shire. “No one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark.”

In some cases, people are turned away at the border and required to apply for asylum where they already are; others are simply sent back home. In places like the Balkans and Mexico, large numbers of people have become stranded by closed borders along their planned route, straining emergency aid and asylum systems.

This pushes some migrants to seek out even more dangerous routes to evade controls. Others turn to increasingly expensive smugglers, or become vulnerable to traffickers who exploit and extort them. Death tolls have soared in recent years. Almost 8,000 migrant deaths were recorded by the UN in 2016, the deadliest year on record, most of whom drowned in the Mediterranean Sea. These are likely just a fraction of the total number of people who died. Many more deaths in the world’s treacherous borderlands, like the Sahara Desert, the Sonoran Desert on the US-Mexico border, and the Darién Gap, go uncounted. The UN estimates the journey across the Sahara could be twice as deadly as the Mediterranean.

At a glance: The risks they face

  • Deaths and disappearances: Some 56,800 people died or disappeared while migrating between 2014 and 2018, according to an estimate by the Associated Press. It is likely that many more deaths go uncounted.
  • Stuck in foreign lands: Thousands of people get stuck in Bosnia trying to get into Croatia, a member of the EU. On average, they said smugglers charged them $10,000 to bring them to the EU.
  • Forced into dangerous routes: Since an EU-backed crackdown on irregular migration through Niger, people are taking new routes to Libya, according to researchers. People in Niger say tighter security has made the journey more difficult and dangerous.
  • Running the gauntlet of gangs: Most routes to the United States through Latin America are beset by dangers. The Darién Gap on the Colombia-Panama border is a lawless, deadly jungle. Routes through Central America to Mexico are controlled by criminal gangs and drug cartels, leaving migrants vulnerable to kidnappings, sexual violence, and murder.

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