Mapping Europe’s migrant crisis: 2015 on track to be deadliest year on record

This weekend, a fishing boat carrying hundreds of migrants sank in the Mediterranean. Nobody is quite sure how many people might have died, but the United Nation’s Refugee Agency puts the number at about 700.

“Should these numbers be confirmed, the incident… will be the largest loss of life from any incident on the Mediterranean involving refugees and migrants,” the agency said in a statement issued yesterday.

Already this year, the agency estimates that 1,600 migrants have died while trying to reach European shores. A total of 3,500 died in all of 2014, which was itself a record, putting 2015 on track to be the worst year ever, according to the UN.

Another group has been tracking the death toll, too. The Migrants’ Files was created in 2013 by a group of European journalists who wanted to accurately calculate and report on the situation, which is increasingly being described as an all-out crisis.

The result is the data, which has been compiled into the graphs below. They can be filtered by region, year, and cause of death. The first one shows a snapshot of the crisis so far this year, the centerpiece of which was this weekend’s tragedy.

Last year, the worst incident happened in December, off the coast of Malta. Traffickers “deliberately sunk” the boat, according to the few survivors. About five hundred died in that incident.

The group has collected information going back as far as 2000. In the map below, all the recorded incidents– 2,873 to date, are visualized. The numbers from some years include incidents from other parts of Africa and Asia.

The Migrants’ Project claims to have data for 13,744 deaths.

Due to large scale shipwrecks like last weekend’s tragedy, the main cause of migrant deaths in Europe is drowning. However, there are many deaths every year that take place in European detention centers, which the group also tracks.

Over 20 percent of these deaths happen in Italy, the country most directly impacted by the crisis, due to its close proximity to Tunisia and Libya — main points of departure.


“[Last weekend’s] disaster confirms how urgent it is to restore a robust rescue-at-sea operation and establish credible legal avenues to reach Europe,” said the UN Refugee Agency high commissioner António Guterres in a statement. “Otherwise people seeking safety will continue to perish at sea.”

“But it also points to the need for a comprehensive European approach to address the root causes that drive so many people to this tragic end. I hope the EU [European Union] will rise to the occasion, fully assuming a decisive role to prevent future such tragedies.”

In 2014, 219,000 migrants crossed the Mediterranean into Europe, the agency reports. So far this year an estimated 36,000 have done so.