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

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 on 2 September 2015 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 young 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. Independent research shared with Oxfam by the Visual Social Media Lab, based at the University of Sheffield in the UK, 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 young Syrian boy 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 to flee. 

Two major meetings on the global refugee and migration crisis take place in New York later this month - the UN Summit for refugees and migrants and the Leaders’ Summit on refugees. Negotiations for the UN Summit were held, but they were very disappointing, with many countries unwilling to do more to help. 

Oxfam is calling on governments – especially rich ones – to commit to welcoming more refugees, assisting the poorer countries sheltering the majority of refugees, and helping to protect all people on the move. 

Winnie Byanyima, Oxfam International’s Executive Director, said: “Condemnation was voiced and tears were shed across the world when we saw the photos of Alan Kurdi dead on a beach. One year on nothing has improved for those searching, as Alan was, for safety and dignity. 

"Both the UN and President Obama see the migration challenge as critical, calling for two separate summits. But the recent meetings ahead of the UN Summit were appallingly weak, with states focusing on self-interest while more lives were lost on ever more dangerous routes to safety. 

“Governments have not one but two second chances to help now - at President Obama’s and the UN’s respective summits for refugees and migrants. Government leaders must not waste these opportunities as lives are on the line.” 

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.  

Notes to editors

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). Access the statistics here - http://missingmigrants.iom.int/ 

3. The Visual Social Media Lab brings together academics and industry researchers interested in analyzing social media images and their social impact. Three months after the death of Alan Kurdi, the lab published a widely cited report - http://visualsocialmedialab.org/projects/the-iconic-image-on-social-media - that 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. For details about the methodology clink here http://www.pulsarplatform.com/blog/2016/journey-of-an-image-one-year-on/ or contact the Oxfam press office.

4. The need for safe and regular routes is highlighted by the stories of people who have attempted to reach Europe by crossing the Sahara desert. There is a dearth of information about how many people have died on this treacherous route, but testimonies collected by Oxfam chronicle the horrors suffered along the way. Stories and pictures from Niger of people either about to embark on the Sahara crossing to reach Europe or returning to Niger after giving up the marathon ordeal can be downloaded for free use on Oxfam's website http://imagenesypalabras.oxfamintermon.org/?c=6904&k=b8d20950a1

5. To donate to Oxfam’s Refugee Crisis Appeal go to: (http://oxf.am/Z2s8)

Contact information

Attila Kulcsar | attila.kulcsar@oxfaminternational.org | +44 7471 142 974

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