IOM: Migrant Deaths on the Rise in West and Central Africa in 2022

Main countries of origin of West and Central African nationals known to have died during migration in 2022.

Berlin/Dakar: The International Organization for Migration (IOM) recorded a total of 148 deaths and disappearances on migratory routes in the West and Central Africa (WCA) region, according to a new report published today (16/05) by the Missing Migrants Project (MMP). This tragic figure is higher than in 2021 when 110 deaths and disappearances were documented, though data is so scarce that both figures are almost certainly an undercount.

The new report sheds light on the growing risks migrants face on their journey, the main routes leading to migrant deaths in the region, and the limited support available for migrants and these families when disappearances occur.

Across North and West Africa, 43 shipwrecks were recorded along the Western Africa Atlantic Route to Spain’s Canary Islands in 2022, resulting in the deaths of at least 559 people at sea, half of whom were presumed drowned as their remains could not be recovered. In comparison, 1,126 migrants died in 74 shipwrecks on this route in 2021. However, invisible shipwrecks—cases in which a boat is reported in distress but no survivors are reported—are believed to be frequent occurrences on this route but are nearly impossible to verify, meaning that these figures are a minimum estimate of the true death toll.

More than half of those who lost their lives on the Canary Islands route last year were West and Central African nationals departing from Morocco and Western Sahara. However, most documented deaths on this route remain unidentified: 84 per cent of those who died on the Canary Islands route in 2022 (467 people) are listed with an unknown country of origin.

Another 87 deaths were recorded on trans-Saharan routes in 2022. This too is likely an undercount, as the absence of reports on the deaths or disappearances of migrants in the region from official and non-governmental sources is linked to the vast, inhospitable geography of the Sahara.   

To address this gap, IOM's Displacement Tracking Matrix (DTM) and MMP are piloting a module to collect data on missing migrants at survey locations in Mali and Niger. Collecting data from those who have witnessed a death while also ensuring adequate support to the witnesses to these tragedies is crucial in the Sahara and many other poorly monitored routes. According to these surveys, one in 100 of the 12,000 migrants who were interviewed in Mali and Niger in 2022 witnessed a death along their journey: a worrying trend given that more than 380,000 migratory movements were observed at the same interview locations in the last quarter of 2022 alone.

“Families of migrants, society and governments need better information that can help prevent tragic deaths and suffering along these routes. Although irregular migration makes up less than a fraction of a percent of regular, safe migration, we can do more to reduce this terrible waste of human potential,” said Koko Warner, Director of the IOM Global Data Institute. “IOM's Displacement Tracking Matrix and our Missing Migrants Project are teaming up to reduce the data blind spots across treacherous, dangerous passages. This valuable data supports solution for rights- and evidence-based action and migration policies.”

Beyond routes within West and Central African, people from the region continue to face risks and hardship along migration routes worldwide. In 2022, MMP recorded the deaths of 149 nationals of West and Central African countries on the Central Mediterranean Route and the Eastern Mediterranean Route, with at least 40 deaths on the Western Mediterranean Route attributed to Sub-Saharan Africans. Of the 2,406 deaths and disappearances in the Mediterranean in 2022, 1,126 have an unknown nationality listed, meaning that many more people.

Nationals from West and Central African countries have also been reported as dead or missing in Libya (33), Algeria (25), Morocco (8), and Tunisia (7). Outside of Africa, 10 deaths of West and Central African nationals were recorded on Europe border crossings and five on the United States-Mexico border.

Between 2014 to 2022 MMP recorded 2,902 migrant deaths and disappearances on routes within and from West and Central Africa, including 457 women, 1,035 men and 275 children. Half of these deaths occurred in attempts to cross the Sahara Desert towards Northern Africa and one in 10 took place on the maritime route to the Canary Islands after departing from West Africa.

Through the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, most West and Central African countries have committed to “save lives and establish coordinated international efforts on missing migrants.” States must implement these commitments to end migrant deaths and address the far-reaching impacts on families and communities across the region.

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A list of UNNM recommendations on missing migrants can be found at

For more information, please contact Julia Black at IOM GMDAC: