International Migration Institute Network working paper by Charles Heller, Research Fellow at the Centre for Research Architecture, Goldsmiths, University of London and Antoine Pécoud, Professor of Sociology, University of Paris 13. Article here.
Abstract: Migrant deaths in border-zones have become a major social and political issue, especially in the euro-Mediterranean region and in the context of the refugee/migrant crisis. While media, activists and policymakers often mention precise figures regarding the number of deaths, little is known about the production of statistical data on this topic. This paper explores the politics of counting migrant deaths in Europe. This statistical activity was initiated in the nineties by civil society organizations; the purpose was to shed light on the deadly consequences of ‘Fortress Europe’ and to challenge states’ control-oriented policies. In 2013, the International Organization for Migration also started to count migrants’ deaths, yet with a different political objective: humanitarian and life-saving activities become integrated in border management and the control of borders is expected to both monitor human mobility and save migrants’ lives. IOM thus depoliticises these statistics, while at the same time imitating an activity first associated with political contestation by civil society actors. Finally, the paper explores ways in which statistics on border deaths can be re-politicised to challenge states’ immigration policies in Europe.
Non‐technical summary: The deaths of migrants in the euro‐Mediterranean region constitute a major issue in the context of the migration crisis. Media regularly report of shipwrecks or of dead bodies found on Southern European shores, while European governments and the EU are under pressure, by civil society groups in particular, to find ways of ending a tragedy that is at odds with the continent’s commitment to peace and human rights. This paper explores the ways in which statistics on migrants’ deaths are collected. The first data on this topic came from NGOs in the nineties; their objective was to denounce the deadly consequences of European policies and to challenge control‐oriented policies. Today, however, statistics on border deaths are collected by an intergovernmental actor, the International Organization for Migration: rather than criticizing states, this organization aims at conciliating the control of human mobility with the prevention of deaths – thus moving towards a ‘humanitarian border’.