From January 1, 2014 until the end of 2020, the IOM (International Organization for Migration) counted 40,000 people dead or missing during their migration across the world (including at least 2,300 children) . Of these, more than half drowned in the Mediterranean, making it by far the deadliest migratory border in the world. In the Mediterranean, tragedies follow one another but are not alike. We can think first of all of the young Alan Kurdi, originally from Kobane, whose body of barely 3 years old was found inert on September 2, 2015 on a beach in Turkey and whose photo has been around the world. Or the shipwreck of April 19, 2015 off the Libyan coast which caused the simultaneous death of several hundred people. Sad record … Or finally, the history of Left-to-die Boat narrated with force by Charles Heller and Lorenzo Pezzani in 2014 in the cartographic film, Liquid traces, and which shows to what extent the European countries place the “protection” of their borders well before the most elementary gestures of solidarity.
Count the dead
To date, there is no official system in Europe for counting the deaths of migration. To compensate for this lack, it is the network UNITED for Intercultural Action which was the first to pave the way in the 1990s. This collective, which today brings together more than 560 organizations, indeed launched very early into this macabre accounting in an attempt to understand the extent of what was played in the Mediterranean and thus denounce the racism and nationalism of European countries. At the same time, the Italian journalist Gabriele Del Grande was also trying to reference these tragedies in the Mediterranean through his blog Fortress Europe. In 2013, in a desire to cross and verify as much information as possible, the project “Migrants Files”Initiated by a group of European journalists, then compiled all the available information and checked it one by one, revealing that all the data known until then underestimated reality. Finally, since 2014, the IOM (International Organization for Migration) has daily referred to a database of dead or missing people in migration throughout the world on its portal “Missing Migrants Project”.
A heavy toll
By putting these different data together, we obtain the tragic figure of 50,000 women, men and children who have died in migration in the vicinity of the European Union since the beginning of the 1990s, i.e. the equivalent of a city like Laval, Arles or Bobigny. By construction, we also know that these figures underestimate the reality, since the dead drowned in the open sea, of thirst in the desert, or of hunger in Libyan prisons, cannot be counted for lack of testimonies to relate them. Finally, let us add that this accumulation of figures, if it has the advantage of shedding light on the order of magnitude, should not make us forget either that in terms of migration, each story is a unique story that it is difficult to describe. summarize with simple statistical data, as the NGO SOS Méditerranée recently demonstrated through a series of portraits of miners rescued by the Aquarius and the Ocean Viking.
Spatialization of the gaze
The first map of the dead at the borders of Europe was produced in the early 2000s by the geographer Olivier Clochard and first published in 2003 in an issue of Cahiers d’Outre-Mer. As soon as it appeared, this map was redesigned and updated by geographer Philippe Rekacewicz for a first publication in Le Diplomatic world, which gave it a strong echo. Since then, this map has been updated regularly as part of the network atlases Migreurop. The animated map presented here follows this line.
A mobile border
Scrolling through the maps from 1993 to 2020 like scrolling through photo film, one thing is obvious: the “geography of the dead” varies from year to year. Concentrated at the level of the Strait of Gibraltar and the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla in 2000, the border gradually slipped until 2006 towards the Canary Islands, further south. In 2015, at the time of the “migration crisis”, we saw numerous shipwrecks appear in the Aegean Sea, while in 2017, most of them occurred off Libya, in the central Mediterranean. Finally, 2020 will have been marked by a return of shipwrecks off Senegal and the Canary Islands.
Beyond the variations in scale which can be partly explained by external events (war in Libya, Syria, Arab Spring, etc.), the movements of this lethal border are largely attributable to the migration policies of the European Union. . Whenever a crossing point is closed (Strait of Gibraltar, Canary Islands, Lampedusa, etc.), migratory flows are diverted but not stopped. To have a chance to pass, you have to take ever more dangerous roads and put your life in the hands of unscrupulous mafias. The roads to Europe are becoming more expensive, more dangerous and more violent for the migrants who use them. European migration policies are therefore not only ineffective, but above all they are dangerous. We dream of a day when the migration issue will be approached rationally, in line with current scientific work, and when the public debate will not focus on inept means of “drying up the flow”, but on real ways of organizing a welcome worthy of those who arrive. The violence of the course must be fought tooth and nail, so that everyone, whether rich or poor, can cross borders freely and in complete safety.
Nicolas lambert is a research engineer at the CNRS in geographic information sciences. He is a communist activist and member of the Migreurop network. He also animates a blog , “neocartographic notebook”, and is very active on social networks under the nickname “cartographer inset”. Each month, he presents us with one or more cards accompanied by a commentary to help us understand and apprehend differently a piece of information, a social issue or a debate. Nicolas Lambert has participated in the realization of several works such as Atlas of Europe in the world (2008), Atlas of migrants in Europe (2009, 2012, 2017), the Cartography Manual (2016, published in English in 2020) and Mad Maps (2019). He teaches cartography at the University of Paris.
Find here all the interactive maps he produced for Humanity.