Newspaper article International New York Times

A Vast Migration Tragedy

Newspaper article International New York Times

A Vast Migration Tragedy

Article excerpt

Nearly 5,000 people have died on land and at sea in 2014, double last year's number.

Amid the multitude of World War II horrors, few tug at mankind's conscience like the voyages of refugee boats whose passengers died fleeing war, mass murder and genocide: the schooner Mefkure, sunk in 1944 on the Black Sea, taking over 300 lives, or the Struma, with almost 800 fatalities in those same waters two years earlier.

Then there was the notorious St. Louis, which in 1939 left Hamburg for Havana, with more than 900 German refugees aboard. They were forced back to Europe after Cuba, the United States and Canada all balked at letting them land. We now know hundreds of those returnees perished in the war.

Yet those tragedies pale in comparison with what is happening today. In 2014 more migrants have died traveling -- nearly 5,000 -- than there were passengers and crew on those three voyages.

Migrants can die by the hundreds, most recently in September, when as many as 500 lives were lost off the coast of Malta. But they also die by the tens and dozens, almost daily, disappearing into the waters of the Mediterranean and Red Seas, the Caribbean, the Gulf of Aden and the Bay of Bengal.

Our group, the International Organization for Migration, has data showing that 2014 will be the deadliest year for migrants on record. Our final figures, to be published later this month, will more than double the 2,378 deaths we reported last year. In the Mediterranean alone this year, some 3,400 migrant men, women and children have drowned -- a fivefold increase over 2013. Altogether, the number of migrant deaths in 2014 on land and at sea stands at 4,868.

Will 2015 be even worse? It well could be, unless we commit to making changes in how we view migration -- and how we manage it.

First, let's take stock. Migration is not a catastrophe, nor is it an invasion. Often, it isn't even an emergency. It is, as throughout history, an inevitability. People move to improve their lives, whether that means access to a better food supply or simply a better chance of surviving conflict. The International Organization for Migration calculates that at least 232 million people now live outside the borders of their homelands. Yet only a fraction of that population is fleeing distress, what we consider "desperation" migration.

Second, we must acknowledge the many factors behind the migration surge. Demography is the biggest. For the most part, migration is a byproduct of the quadrupling of the human population over a single century, an unprecedented event in the life of our species. …

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