Migration within Western Asia

Complexity and instability characterize migration dynamics in the Middle East, which has been the site of human mobility connecting the many regions for thousands of years. In the past two decades, protracted conflicts in the Syrian Arab Republic, Iraq and Yemen have resulted in large-scale forced migration and internal displacement. Many factors – not least economic and political– have resulted in irregular and mixed migration flows within, to and from the region, including from the Syrian Arab Republic, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan to Turkey and sometimes onward to the European Union, and from East Africa and South Asia to Yemen and countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).

Migration in Western Asia: context in brief 

Complexity and instability characterize migration dynamics in the Middle East, which has been the site of human mobility connecting the many regions for thousands of years. In the past two decades, protracted conflicts in the Syrian Arab Republic, Iraq and Yemen have resulted in large-scale forced migration and internal displacement. Many factors – not least economic and political– have resulted in irregular and mixed migration flows within, to and from the region, including from the Syrian Arab Republic, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan to Turkey and sometimes onward to the European Union, and from East Africa and South Asia to Yemen and countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). The latter countries, in addition to Jordan and Lebanon, are the main countries of destination for migrants within the region, though it should be noted that many countries across the Middle East are simultaneously countries of origin, transit and/or destination. In recent years, increasing numbers of people have been prevented from continuing overland migration journeys and have subsequently become trapped in border areas. There is a high reliance on smugglers to travel through the region and to exit conflict-ridden countries, such as Iraq and the Syrian Arab Republic, due to the reduced availability of safe and legal mobility options. This has led people to embark on risky migration journeys, where they may face risks to life.  

Overview of migrant deaths in Western Asia

The data compiled by the Missing Migrants Project indicate that across the Middle East the primary direct cause of death on migration routes between 2014 and 2020 was violence. Though data on militarized borders in the region is scarce, there are anecdotal reports of migrants from East Africa – particularly from Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia – who have been shot attempting to cross Yemen’s northern borders after they already managed to complete the perilous boat journey from Eastern Africa to the Arabian Peninsula. The limited data available confirm that at least several hundred people lost their lives between 2014 and 2020 while trying to cross from the Syrian Arab Republic into Turkey and Lebanon. Hundreds of migrants have also drowned during the same period as they have tried to reach their destinations, across Lake Van, in Eastern Turkey, or in the Evros/Meriç River, which borders Turkey and Greece. 

 

Data collection and challenges  

Contexts of conflict and political instability make the collection of data on deaths and disappearances of migrants especially challenging meaning that Missing Migrants Project data are likely highly incomplete and are best understood as a minimum estimate of the true number. Incompleteness is due to the fact that those on the move are unlikely to officially report people who die or go missing as there may be no resources available to handle such requests, and in many cases those in irregular situations may fear negative legal consequences by contacting the authorities. Furthermore, it can be difficult to distinguish between migration- and conflict-related deaths in the context of heavily securitized borders and ongoing conflict.

 

Because there are no known official sources of data on deaths during migration, Missing Migrants Project data in the Middle East rely largely on NGO informants and media reports. This means that the Project’s records are likely to be biased towards high-profile or specific geographical areas, and many reports may be difficult to verify due to security challenges. 

Further reading 

Brian, T. (2017) “The Middle East and North Africa” in Fatal Journeys 3 part 2: Improving Data on Missing Migrants.  

Horwood, C. (2014) “From Sub-Saharan Africa through North Africa: Tracking deaths along the way” inFatal Journeys: Tracking Lives Lost during Migration

Migration in the Middle East more broadly 

Middle East Regional Hub, Mixed Migration Centre. 

Monthly Updates, North African Mixed Migration Hub

Migration Data Portal: Western Asia 

Total Dead and Missing

1,225
Missing Migrants
Recorded in Western Asia
(since 2014)

Dead and Missing by year

Migration Route

Fatalities by Month

Cause of Death

Violence 293 Violence
accident 7 Accidental death
Sickness / lack of access to adequate healthcare 12 Sickness / lack of access to adequate healthcare
Vehicle accident icon 148 Vehicle accident / death linked to hazardous transport
Harsh environmental conditions icon 96 Harsh environmental conditions / lack of adequate shelter, food, water
Mixed or unknown icon 50 Mixed or unknown
Drowning 619 Drowning

By Gender

Number of children

Latest incidents

Date Sort ascending Migration route Cause of Death Dead & Missing Women & children Source View
22/09/2021 Turkey-Europe land route 1 0 Edirne Central Gendarmerie Command via IOM Turkey
13/09/2021 Turkey-Europe land route 1 0 Edirne Central Gendarmerie Command via IOM Turkey
02/09/2021 Turkey-Europe land route 1 0 Alarm Phone
30/08/2021 Turkey-Europe land route 3 0 Uzunköprü Gendarmerie Command via IOM Turkey
30/08/2021 Turkey-Europe land route 1 0 Edirne Central Gendarmerie Command via IOM Turkey
28/08/2021 Turkey-Europe land route 1 0 IOM Turkey
24/08/2021 Turkey-Europe land route 1 0 IOM Turkey, Stockholm Center for Freedom, Ozgur-Der (Lawyers Association for Freedom)
24/08/2021 Turkey-Europe land route 2 0 IOM Turkey, Stockholm Center for Freedom, Ozgur-Der (Lawyers Association for Freedom)
04/08/2021 Turkey-Europe land route 4 0 Uzunköprü Gendarmerie Commander via IOM Turkey
11/07/2021 Iran to Turkey 11 0 Daily Sabha, Europa Press