A recent photo of a man and his daughter who drowned while trying to enter the United States has sparked global outcry. The pair were reported to have travelled from El Salvador to Mexico, and were crossing the Rio Grande to seek asylum in the United States. On 28 June, the United Nations stated that over the past four years, one migrant child died almost daily while fleeing insecurity and trying to reach safety.
According to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), at least 32,000 migrants, including 1,600 children have died since 2014 on these journeys. The actual number of deaths is likely higher, as IOM started recording migrant casualties and disappearances only in 2014.
The heart-breaking photograph of Oscar Alberto Martinez, a 25-year-old father, and his 24-month-old daughter, Angie Valeria, spotlighted the dangers facing the 70 million forcibly displaced people in the world, the majority of which are reported to be children, who decide to undertake treacherous journeys for a better future.
According to the United States Border Patrol, 283 migrant fatalities were recorded on the Mexican-US border in 2018. Activists, however, believe that the actual number of fatalities is much higher as the bodies of many migrants who die along the 3,138-kilometre long border are never found.
The photo of Martinez and his daughter was compared to the iconic photograph of Alan Kurdi, the three-year-old Syrian refugee, whose body washed up on the shores of the Mediterranean in 2015. The boy arrived with a wave of Syrian refugees, and the resulting dismay across Europe lead to the EU-ordered closure of the migrant route between Turkey and Greece. Since then, Mediterranean Sea crossings have subsided and reportedly contributed to the decrease of overall migrant casualty rates, down from 6,280 in 2017 to 4,734 in 2018 according to IOM.
Frank Laczko, the Head of IOM’s Data Analysis Centre, told Thomson Reuters Foundation that the graphic image of Alan Kurdi’s death caught the world’s attention, and should have catalysed actions to halt the refugee crisis’ skyrocketing casualty rates. Laczko added that despite recognizing the need for a global response, the world witnessed ‘relatively little action taken from a humanitarian perspective to help the families […]’. He further highlighted that these countries’ actions demonstrated their priority of defending their borders, as emphasized by the fact that several countries have built fences around their borders to deter migrants flowing in from neighbouring countries. Moreover, European Union member states and the United States have pressured their neighbours to prevent people from attempting to leave and undertake these journeys.