Counting migrants’ deaths at the border: From civil society counter-statistics to (inter)governmental recuperation
Charles Heller, Antoine Pécoud
Migrant deaths in border-zones have become a major social and political issue, especially in the euro-Mediterranean region and in the context of the refugee/migrant crisis. While media, activists and policymakers often mention precise figures regarding the number of deaths, little is known about the production of statistical data on this topic. This paper explores the politics of counting migrant deaths in Europe. This statistical activity was initiated in the nineties by civil society organizations; the purpose was to shed light on the deadly consequences of ‘Fortress Europe’ and to challenge states’ control-oriented policies. In 2013, the International Organization for Migration also started to count migrants’ deaths, yet with a different political objective: humanitarian and life-saving activities become integrated in border management and the control of borders is expected to both monitor human mobility and save migrants’ lives. IOM thus depoliticises these statistics, while at the same time imitating an activity first associated with political contestation by civil society actors. Finally, the paper explores ways in which statistics on border deaths can be re-politicised to challenge states’ immigration policies in Europe.