- Migration within Europe: context in brief
Most migration in Europe is intraregional, meaning that the majority of migrants in Europe come from another European country. It is enabled by the freedom of movement and common visa system of the 26 countries in the Schengen Zone. Nonetheless, some people without legal status in the Schengen Zone and other countries in Europe migrate irregularly within the continent, which can pose risks to their lives.
The information here focuses on the main migration routes and border crossings within Europe where since 2014 (when Missing Migrants Project records begin), people are known to have lost their lives as they try to reach their destinations. Journalists and civil society organizations have documented the risks associated with these migration routes since the early 1990s. The information below does not disregard the risks associated with irregular migration in other parts of the continent. Information on deaths on migration routes to reach Europe, via the Mediterranean Sea, the Atlantic Route to the Canary Islands and from Comoros to Mayotte is available on the Mediterranean and the Africa regional pages.
The Western Balkans route is typically used by migrants, including asylum seekers, who arrive in Greece or Bulgaria from Turkey, who are trying to reach Western or Northern Europe. From Greece, they move through North Macedonia to Hungary, or to Western European countries via Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and/or Croatia. Though the number of people using this route was particularly high in 2015-2016, when nearly 1 million people from the Syrian Arab Republic, Iraq and Afghanistan arrived in Greece via the Eastern Mediterranean, people continue to transit through the Western Balkans, albeit at far lower numbers than in earlier years. Migrants on this route often face strict border controls, compelling many to take dangerous irregular journeys through often-hazardous terrain in order to escape detection.
Though many migrants on this route often arrive in Greece after crossing the Eastern Mediterranean, others arrive via the land border between Greece and Turkey’s Edirne region. Migrants must often cross the Evros/Meriç river, which with the implementation of strict border controls in this region mean that migrants sometimes try to cross at night in order to escape detection, which increases the risks to their safety. In addition, incidents involving violent pushbacks and collective expulsion by border authorities have been reported and documented here and on the Western Balkans route as a whole.
English Channel crossing
The area around Calais, France has been frequented by migrants attempting to reach the United Kingdom since at least the 1990s. From the coast near Calais, people attempt to reach the United Kingdom irregularly either via the Eurotunnel, by stowing away on a truck or other vehicle or via the Port of Calais, where they attempt to board ferries or use small unseaworthy boats from other points on the coast of France to try to reach Dover or other ports in southern England. While young men typically have been the ones to embark on this journey, in 2019 and 2020, there was an increase of unaccompanied children and families travelling together by boat from the French and Belgian coasts.
Another route through Europe used by migrants in irregular situations involves crossing the heavily securitized border from Italy, around Ventimiglia, to France. This route is typically used by migrants who arrive in the country via the Central Mediterranean via Libya or Tunisia, or those who had traveled along the Western Balkans route and entered Italy via Trieste. The crossing from Italy to France can pose significant hazards for migrants attempting to avoid detection with limited resources and transit options. People travel either by foot through mountainous territory and/or on busy motorways, or by hopping on trains - in some cases even riding on the top of moving train cars.
- Overview of migrant deaths in Europe
Taken together, hundreds of people have died on migration routes in Europe since 1990s.For people travelling without the needed documentation, avoiding detection by authorities must be central to their decision-making about their journeys, as they do not have access to safe and legal mobility options. This may include efforts to conceal themselves, to blend-in, and/or take dangerous routes to overcome physical barriers, all of which can lead to fatalities. The direct causes of death during migration in Europe are often linked to hazardous transport, including accidents involving trains, planes, and other vehicles. Asphyxiation during transit is also unfortunately common, with one of the most devastating incidents being when more than 70 women, men and children died in the back of the truck in which they were travelling through Austria in late 2015. Those who travel by foot are also sometimes struck and killed by cars, trucks or trains. Deaths linked to exposure and lack of access to adequate shelter, medicine, and other necessities are also sadly common, particularly on routes which go through remote regions.
While Missing Migrants Project tries to compile all available details which are known of the person who died and the circumstances of their death, many people who lose their lives remain unidentified. Missing Migrants Project has recorded the deaths of hundreds of people for whom no identifying information is available, meaning that the families of missing migrants may not know the fate of their loved one. For others, only partial information is known, but indicate that men, women and children from countries across the Middle East, South Asia, and most regions in Africa have all died trying to migrate within Europe.
- Data collection and challenges
In addition to the general challenges inherent to collecting data on migrant deaths, there are also unique challenges to the European context. As of 2020 no national or international authority publishes data or even comprehensive reports on migrant deaths in their respective jurisdiction. Therefore, data on migrant deaths in the Europe region are derived primarily from local police and media reports as well as from non-governmental actors, including IOM country offices in Europe. Still, migrants who go missing or die attempting to cross the internal borders of Europe often receive little attention and this means that data on migrant deaths in Europe are likely an undercount of the true number.
Migrant deaths and disappearances in Europe
Black, J. and I. Urquijo Sanchez (2017) “Europe and the Mediterranean” in Fatal Journeys 3 part 2: Improving Data on Missing Migrants. IOM, Geneva.
Calais Migrant Solidarity (2020) Deaths at the Calais border
Greider, A. (2017) Outsourcing Migration Management: The Role of the Western Balkans in the European Refugee Crisis. Migration Policy Institute
Institute for Race Relations (2020) Deadly crossings and the militarisation of Britain’s borders
MSF (2017) Harsh living conditions for migrants in Ventimiglia
UNITED for Intercultural Action
Data on migration in Europe more broadly
Migration Data Portal: Europe
IOM, Flow Monitoring Europe
 For example, UNITED for Intercultural Action http://www.unitedagainstracism.org/campaigns/refugee-campaign/fortress-europe/, The Migrant Files http://www.themigrantsfiles.com/, Asociación Pro Derechos Humanos de Andalucía https://www.apdha.org/, the Associated Press https://apnews.com/e509e15f8b074b1d984f97502eab6a25?fbclid=IwAR0_8XiPNdJx_rzTRIQein7SjbJI4OHBEMFLJ-ePXxzpPevHY3lpXybIMWk, and Alarm Phone https://alarmphone.org/en/