An audacious idea, a devastating result: AP counts tens of thousands more migrants killed, disappeared worldwide

November 2, 2018

Tally includes nearly 4,000 people from southern U.S. border; NPR's Deggans named new Peabody chair; NYT circulation up; R.I.P. Amal Hussain, 7

Lori Hinnant’s achievement was posted worldwide Thursday morning: the documented discovery of tens of thousands more migrants who had died or disappeared over the past four years.

Hailed by non-government agencies, the AP journalist’s database, relying on forensic evidence and data from thousands of interviews with migrants, tallied 56,800 people as of Monday — nearly double the total of a more narrowly focused count attempted by the U.N.’s International Organization on Migration. The AP also compiled information from other international groups and requested missing persons reports and death records.

The count — again, 56,800 people — includes at least 3,861 dead and missing migrants on the route from Mexico to the United States.

How did Hinnant and her team do the counting? “Honestly, as recently as four weeks ago, I was not sure this was going to work,” the Paris-based Hinnant told me via Skype.

When did she think about gathering such a number? Nearly a year ago, after reporting on the outflow of refugees from the IS takeover in parts of Iraq. It took her, with help from AP correspondents in South America, South Africa and the Philippines, about seven months for that effort.

Hinnant emphasized that the tally was low. How can you count bodies buried in the Sahara's sands or at the bottom of the sea? Also, the toll from whole sections of the world has not been counted or is severely undercounted. For example, she has no figures from the China-North Korea border — neither government has an interest in sharing data nor in encouraging international tallies.

Some countries of origin avoid probing the number of people missing who had left their land for better opportunities elsewhere. "It's an admission of failure," she said. Countries such as Colombia have detailed statistics on Venezuelans who fled their land and died or went missing on the route in Colombia. There are detailed reports from the Philippines on its citizens who died or disappeared while seeking migrant work abroad.

Hinnant's co-writer, Johannesburg-based Bram Janssen, found records of more than 4,300 graves of migrants from elsewhere in Africa, some of them children, whose bodies lay unnamed and unclaimed in South Africa's Gauteng province. Nearly all of South Africa's unidentified bodies, already in the ground, were migrants, raising the question, as Hinnant put it, "How do you find somebody who is missing when no one knows who they are?”

The scope of the migrant crisis worldwide is huge. Last year, more than 258 million international migrants were reported, an increase of 49 percent from 2000. 

Hinnant said she hopes the AP's effort at tracking the dead and missing will prompt officials to improve safety for people on the move. One idea: Building rudimentary shelters in the frigid highlands of Colombia where Venezuelan migrants have perished. Many of these migrants already are weak from famine or disease at the start of a journey, she said.

“No matter where you stand on this debate, these are still human beings, they are on the move and they are dying," Hinnant said. "If you can find the way to ease somebody’s suffering, why wouldn’t you?”

AP
The AP's Lori Hinnant reports on the story from Tunisia. (courtesy photo)

Quick hits

MILESTONE: The New York Times says 3 million of its 4 million subscribers are digital, with more than 200,000 net new digital subscribers in the past quarter. That rise came after a heavy marketing push, Poynter's Rick Edmonds reports. More NYT good news: Total revenues rose in the third quarter, by 8 percent against the same quarter in 2017. 

ELECTION ADJUSTMENT: Will the abandonment of print election results by Gannett papers further erode local news consumption? By Ken Doctor.

RECODE: The tech site Recode is folding into Vox.com and its lead editor is leaving. It will be relaunching under Vox.com later this year and its journalists will report to Vox editor-in-chief Lauren Williams, a Vox memo says. By WSJ’s Ben Mullin (paywall)

RESPECT AND CHANGE: What organizers of the Google walkout against workplace sexual harassment and pay inequity have demanded, in their own words.

#METOO IN INDIA: NPR chief business editor Pallavi Gogoi's first-person essay: 'As a young journalist in India, I was raped by M.J. Akbar. Here is my story.' Akbar, former editor of Asian Age and now an Indian parliamentarian, has denied the charge, which several other Indian journalists have independently made against him.

HISTORIC: NPR TV critic Eric Deggans has been named chair of the board of jurors for the Peabody Awards, the first African American to hold the position. Four new jurors also were named: TV critic Lorraine Ali of the Los Angeles Times, TV writer-producer Karen Hall, Public Broadcasting Atlanta president and CEO Wonya Lucas, and Anne Sweeney, former co-chair of Disney Media Networks and president of Disney/ABC Television Group,

MINING HISTORY: The Rachel Maddow podcast "Bag Man," about the press-hating, confrontational Nixon VP Spiro Agnew — and the anti-Semitism he spurred — has become the nation's top podcast, according to iTunes. The story is a cat-and-mouse game between three young federal prosecutors and the man who sat a heartbeat from the president, a man who, Maddow says, also “was an active criminal.” At one point, Agnew, the former Maryland governor, was found accepting cash bribes in the basement of the White House.

Photo by Dave Beard
 

THIRD NEWSMATCH CAMPAIGN LAUNCHED: Up to $25,000 in matching funding is available for each of 155 nonprofit U.S. newsrooms on their year-end fundraising efforts, writes Democracy Fund's Josh Stearns. 

FACE OF YEMEN FAMINE DIES: "I am sorry to report that Amal Hussain is dead." So begins NYT international editor Michael Slackman's announcement about the 7-year-old Yemeni girl whose emaciated frame was featured in a devastating article on the manmade famine and spread of diseases in the nation, products of a Saudi-led bombing campaign and embargo. Amal, whose image prompted an outpouring of offers of help from Times readers, died of malnutrition Thursday in a ragged refugee camp, four miles from a hospital, the NYT's Declan Walsh reported

TWEET OF THE DAY: Does this reporter deserve a raise? You tell me

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