Mortuary workers carry the coffin of an unidentified man for burial at a cemetery outside Johannesburg. At least five bodies of unidentified people are buried on top of each other in each grave. Picture: Bram Janssen/AP
Mortuary workers carry the coffin of an unidentified man for burial at a cemetery outside Johannesburg. At least five bodies of unidentified people are buried on top of each other in each grave. Picture: Bram Janssen/AP
Burial plots in a cemetery outside Johannesburg. At least five bodies of unidentified people are buried on top of each other in each grave. Picture: Bram Janssen/AP
Burial plots in a cemetery outside Johannesburg. At least five bodies of unidentified people are buried on top of each other in each grave. Picture: Bram Janssen/AP
A worker extracts a sample of an unidentified man's body for DNA analysis at the mortuary in Hillbrow, Johannesburg. It's South Africa's busiest morgue, with 3 000 bodies being investigated every year. Ten per cent of those remains unclaimed and unidentified. Picture: Bram Janssen/AP
A worker extracts a sample of an unidentified man's body for DNA analysis at the mortuary in Hillbrow, Johannesburg. It's South Africa's busiest morgue, with 3 000 bodies being investigated every year. Ten per cent of those remains unclaimed and unidentified. Picture: Bram Janssen/AP
Sofia Al Bahari holds a photo of her son, Majdi Al Barhoumi, who went missing in 2011, at her home in the town of Ras Jabal, Bizerte, Tunisia.  Picture: Nariman El-Mofty/AP
Sofia Al Bahari holds a photo of her son, Majdi Al Barhoumi, who went missing in 2011, at her home in the town of Ras Jabal, Bizerte, Tunisia. Picture: Nariman El-Mofty/AP
The father of Majdi Al Barhoumi, who went missing in 2011, holds photos of him, at their home in the town of Ras Jabal, Bizerte, Tunisia. Picture: Nariman El-Mofty/AP
The father of Majdi Al Barhoumi, who went missing in 2011, holds photos of him, at their home in the town of Ras Jabal, Bizerte, Tunisia. Picture: Nariman El-Mofty/AP
Khaled Arfaoui, 25, who wants to leave Tunisia, poses for a photo at the beach where migrants leave for Italy, in the town of Ras Jabal, Bizerte, Tunisia. He says, “If I get the chance, I’ll do it. Even if I fear the sea and I know I might die, I’ll do it.” Picture: Nariman El-Mofty/AP
Khaled Arfaoui, 25, who wants to leave Tunisia, poses for a photo at the beach where migrants leave for Italy, in the town of Ras Jabal, Bizerte, Tunisia. He says, “If I get the chance, I’ll do it. Even if I fear the sea and I know I might die, I’ll do it.” Picture: Nariman El-Mofty/AP
Ahmed Ayouby, 32, left, and Mounir Aguida, 30, who want to leave Tunisia, stand at the beach where migrants leave for Italy, in the town of Ras Jabal, Bizerte. Picture: Nariman El-Mofty/AP
Ahmed Ayouby, 32, left, and Mounir Aguida, 30, who want to leave Tunisia, stand at the beach where migrants leave for Italy, in the town of Ras Jabal, Bizerte. Picture: Nariman El-Mofty/AP
The "Cemetery of the Unknown" which holds bodies of migrants who were found dead on the shores near the southern port town of Zarzis, Tunisia. The bodies are retrieved by retired fisherman Chamsedding Marzouk, who has made it his life's work to provide a proper burial to the foreigners even though they die without a name. Picture: Nariman El-Mofty/AP
The "Cemetery of the Unknown" which holds bodies of migrants who were found dead on the shores near the southern port town of Zarzis, Tunisia. The bodies are retrieved by retired fisherman Chamsedding Marzouk, who has made it his life's work to provide a proper burial to the foreigners even though they die without a name. Picture: Nariman El-Mofty/AP
Almass, an 18-year-old Afghan who lost his younger brother at the Iran-Turkey border four years ago, traces the path of his migration to Europe, at his new home in Gentioux-Pigerolles, France. Picture: Lori Hinnant/AP
Almass, an 18-year-old Afghan who lost his younger brother at the Iran-Turkey border four years ago, traces the path of his migration to Europe, at his new home in Gentioux-Pigerolles, France. Picture: Lori Hinnant/AP
When Almass eventually called home, from Turkey, he couldn't bear to tell his mother what that his brother had died. He said Murtaza couldn't come to the phone but sent his love. Picture: Lori Hinnant/AP
When Almass eventually called home, from Turkey, he couldn't bear to tell his mother what that his brother had died. He said Murtaza couldn't come to the phone but sent his love. Picture: Lori Hinnant/AP
The casket of one of the migrants who died when their boat capsized off in the Canal of Sicily is lifted by crane to an Italian Navy ship at the Lampedusa island harbour. Picture: Mauro Buccarello/AP
The casket of one of the migrants who died when their boat capsized off in the Canal of Sicily is lifted by crane to an Italian Navy ship at the Lampedusa island harbour. Picture: Mauro Buccarello/AP
The belongings of a dead migrant found on the boat sunk in Lampedusa, Italy on October 13, 2013, are displayed during the art exhibition "La Terra Inquieta" (Restless Earth) at the Triennale in Milan, Italy.  Picture: Luca Bruno/AP
The belongings of a dead migrant found on the boat sunk in Lampedusa, Italy on October 13, 2013, are displayed during the art exhibition "La Terra Inquieta" (Restless Earth) at the Triennale in Milan, Italy. Picture: Luca Bruno/AP
Migrants wait to be rescued by aid workers from the Spanish NGO Proactiva Open Arms next to the bodies of other migrants in the Mediterranean Sea, north of Sabratha, Libya. Picture: Santi Palacios/AP
Migrants wait to be rescued by aid workers from the Spanish NGO Proactiva Open Arms next to the bodies of other migrants in the Mediterranean Sea, north of Sabratha, Libya. Picture: Santi Palacios/AP
Venezuelan migrants cover themselves with blankets as they wait in the cold for a lift after crossing the border from Colombia on their way to Peru in Rumichaca, Ecuador. Picture: Ariana Cubillos/AP
Venezuelan migrants cover themselves with blankets as they wait in the cold for a lift after crossing the border from Colombia on their way to Peru in Rumichaca, Ecuador. Picture: Ariana Cubillos/AP
A handprint in honour of migrants that have been killed or are missing is seen on a border wall structure separating Tijuana, Mexico from San Diego. Picture: Gregory Bull/AP
A handprint in honour of migrants that have been killed or are missing is seen on a border wall structure separating Tijuana, Mexico from San Diego. Picture: Gregory Bull/AP
Men line up for a meal as posters for the missing line a window at a shelter for migrants in Tijuana, Mexico. Picture: Gregory Bull/AP
Men line up for a meal as posters for the missing line a window at a shelter for migrants in Tijuana, Mexico. Picture: Gregory Bull/AP
A group of migrants cross the desert between Sasabe, Mexico, and Sasabe, Ariz. As people worldwide flee war, hunger and a lack of jobs, global migration has soared to record highs, with more than 258 million international migrants in 2017. Picture: Gregory Bull/AP
A group of migrants cross the desert between Sasabe, Mexico, and Sasabe, Ariz. As people worldwide flee war, hunger and a lack of jobs, global migration has soared to record highs, with more than 258 million international migrants in 2017. Picture: Gregory Bull/AP
A cement brick with the generic name "John Doe" marks the grave where an unidentified migrant who died while crossing the border is buried in a public cemetery in Holtville, California. Picture: David Maung/AP
A cement brick with the generic name "John Doe" marks the grave where an unidentified migrant who died while crossing the border is buried in a public cemetery in Holtville, California. Picture: David Maung/AP
Pablo Reyes looks at a photo of a skull on his cellphone as he and Juan Lorenzo Luna's sister, Maria Elena Luna, left, and sister-in-law, Cesaria Orona, who's son, Armando, is also missing, testify before a human rights commission in Chihuahua, Mexico. Picture: Marco Ugarte/AP
Pablo Reyes looks at a photo of a skull on his cellphone as he and Juan Lorenzo Luna's sister, Maria Elena Luna, left, and sister-in-law, Cesaria Orona, who's son, Armando, is also missing, testify before a human rights commission in Chihuahua, Mexico. Picture: Marco Ugarte/AP

Johannesburg — As migration rises worldwide, so has its toll: The tens of thousands of people who die or simply disappear during their journeys. Barely counted in life, these migrants rarely register in death - almost as if they never lived at all.

A growing number of migrants have drowned, died in deserts or fallen prey to traffickers, leaving their families to wonder what on earth happened to them. At the same time, anonymous bodies are filling cemeteries in

An Associated Press tally has documented more than 56 800 migrants dead or missing worldwide since 2014 — almost double the number found in the world's only official attempt to try to count them, by the U.N.'s

The AP's tally is also certainly an undercount. Bodies lie undiscovered in desert sands or at the bottom of the sea. And families don't always report loved ones as missing because they migrated illegally, or because they left home without saying exactly where they were headed.

The belongings of migrants which were collected by artist Mohsen Lahzib, who tries to create beauty out of sorrow, at his space in the southern port town of Zarzis, Tunisia. Picture: Nariman El-Mofty/AP

Instead, families are caught between hope and mourning, like that of Safi al-Bahri. Her son, Majdi Barhoumi, left their hometown of Ras Jebel, Tunisia, on May 7, 2011 for Europe in a small boat with a dozen other migrants. The boat sank and Barhoumi hasn't been heard from since. In a sign of faith that he is alive, his mother and father built an animal pen with a brood of hens, a few cows and a dog to stand watch until he returns.

"I just wait for him. I always imagine him behind me, at home, in the market, everywhere," said al-Bahri. "When I hear a voice at night, I think he's come back. When I hear the sound of a motorcycle, I think my son is back."

The official U.N. toll extensively documents deaths in the Mediterranean and Europe, but even there cases fall through the cracks. The political tide is turning against migrants in Europe.

For example, when more than 800 people died in an April 2015 shipwreck off the coast of Italy, Europe's deadliest migrant sea disaster, Italian investigators pledged to identify them and find their families. More than three years later, under a new populist government, funding for this work has been cut off.

The result is that governments vastly underestimate the true toll of migration, a major political and social issue in most of the world today.

"No matter where you stand on the whole migration management debate ... these are still human beings on the move," said Bram Frouws, the head of the Mixed Migration Centre, which has done surveys of more than 20,000 migrants in its 4Mi project since 2014. "Whether it's refugees or people moving for jobs, they are human beings."

Venezuelan migrants cover themselves with blankets as they wait in the cold for a lift after crossing the border from Colombia on their way to Peru in Rumichaca, Ecuador. Picture: Ariana Cubillos/AP

The missing include children, although once again the scant data is only in Europe. Some 2,773 children have been reported to the Red Cross as missing en route to Europe, and 2,097 adults reported missing by children.

Almass and his brother, both migrants from Khost, Afghanistan, are not on the list. He was just 14 when his widowed mother reluctantly sent him and his 11-year-old brother from their home into the unknown. The payment for their trip was supposed to get them away from the Taliban and all the way to Germany via a chain of smugglers.

But when the Iranian border police fired on their group, Almass lost hold of his brother's hand and went unconscious as he tumbled down a ravine. He never saw his brother again. When he next spoke to his mother, he couldn't bring himself to tell her; instead, he lied that his brother couldn't come to the phone but sent his love.

The family phone number in Afghanistan no longer works, their village is overrun with Taliban, and he has no idea how to find them — or the child whose hand slipped from his grasp four years ago.

"I don't know now where they are," he said, his face anguished as he sat on a sun-dappled bench in rural France. "They also don't know where I am."

AP