Global refugee and migrant deaths up more than a fifth in year since 3-year-old Alan Kurdi died

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Globally the number of refugees and migrants who have died while trying to reach another country has increased by more than a fifth in the last year despite the public outcry over the death of three-year-old Alan Kurdi in the Mediterranean, Oxfam said today.

5700 people have died on refugee and migrant routes around the world since the body of the little Syrian boy washed up on a beach after his family tried to cross to Europe from Turkey. In the year before he died, 4664 deaths were recorded.

The numbers of people who have died on refugee and migrant routes since the start of 2016 equates to one almost every 80 minutes.

Photographs of Alan Kurdi became headline news around the world a year ago. Independent research shared with Oxfam by the Visual Social Media Lab, based at the University of Sheffield, found a subsequent rise in interest in the refugee issue on Twitter, with four times as many tweets on the subject than in the year before. The #refugeeswelcome hashtag began trending worldwide in the days after Alan Kurdi’s death and has been used 2.35 million times in the 12 months since.

The recent images of Omran Daqneesh, the child pictured bloodied and covered in dust after being pulled from the rubble of his apartment block in Aleppo, have had a similar effect, showing the strength of public feeling about the violence that is forcing many refugees to flee.

Two major summits on the global refugee and migration crisis take place in New York later this month. The preliminary negotiations have been very disappointing, with many countries unwilling to do more to help, but the summits still offer the opportunity for governments to make firm commitments to improve the situation.

Oxfam is calling on the UK government to commit to welcoming more refugees, helping poorer countries which are sheltering the majority of refugees, and helping to protect all people on the move.

Mark Goldring, Oxfam GB’s chief executive, said:

“The images of Alan Kurdi’s body washed up on a Turkish beach were heartbreaking and the public was rightly shocked and saddened by them. And yet in the year since, the situation has not improved for refugees and migrants who are risking everything in search of safety and a better life for their families. In fact, the routes they take have become deadlier still.

“To stop these needless deaths, we need a coordinated, global response to this crisis. The UK government has an opportunity to show it is part of the solution at the summits in New York later this month.”

Francesco D’Orazio, co-founder of audience intelligence firm Pulsar, which is a founding member of the Visual Social Media Lab, said:

“Our analysis shows a huge increase in awareness about the refugee crisis following Alan Kurdi’s death. More people are discussing the issues on social media and searching for information and news on Google.”

The majority of deaths recorded by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) were people who drowned in the Mediterranean. But other cases included people crossing the Sahara desert, drowning on boats in the Bay of Bengal and Andaman Sea, and while travelling on the top of trains in Mexico.

Oxfam’s Stand as One campaign calls for global action to welcome more refugees, prevent families from being separated and keep people fleeing their homes safe from harm.

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For more information or to set up an interview, please contact Sarah Grainger: sgrainger1@oxfam.org.uk / 07810 181514 or Jill Moody: jmoody1@oxfam.org.uk / 07557 077008

View and download hi-res infographics here

Notes to Eds

  1. In initial reports, Alan Kurdi’s name was spelled ‘Aylan’ but later reports corrected this to Alan.
  2. According to the International Organisation for Migration’s Missing Migrants Project, 4664 people died on refugee and migrant routes around the world between 1 September 2014 and 31 August 2015. 5700 people died on refugee and migrant routes between 1 September 2015 and 26 August 2016 (the time of writing). You can access the statistics here 
  3. The Visual Social Media Lab brings together academics and industry researchers interested in analysing social media images and their social impact. Three months after the death of Alan Kurdi, the lab published a widely-cited report which sought to better understand the response to these images. The latest analysis identified 12.7 million tweets containing the word ‘migrant’ or ‘refugee’ between 18 August 2014 and 1 September 2015. The figure rose to 50.4
    million between 2 September 2015 and 21 August 2016 – a 397% increase. Read more about the methodology here or contact the Oxfam press office
  4. A march to show solidarity with refugees will take place in London on Saturday 17th September. More information is available here 
  5. To donate to Oxfam’s Refugee Crisis Appeal go to https://donate.oxfam.org.uk/emergency/refugeecrisis