Freitag, 30. September 2016

Names for the “Mediterranean Missing”

It is called “Mediterranean Missing”: a project organised by the University of York, City University London and by the IOM, analysing best practice and importance of the process of identifying the bodies. Since the beginning of the year, 3,600 people have already died at sea. “An invisible humanitarian catastrophe which deserves dignity.”

Photo: Redattore Sociale

It is truly a silent massacre, which from the beginning of the year has claimed 3,600 victims, or 6,600 once one counts those who have died since January 2015. Men, women and children in flight for a better future, who have lost their lives at sea in the attempt to reach Europe. Today they represent the new “Mediterranean missing”. Their bodies have been buried in tombs without name in the cemeteries of Southern Italy. Their families on the other side of the Mediterranean do not know if they ought cry for their death or expect their return. But how is the recognition of the bodies managed? Who deals with it and how? The subject is at the centre of the Mediterranean Missing project ('Missing and Dead Migrants at the Borders of the EU in the Mediterranean: Humanitarian Requirements and the Tasks of the State'), organised by the Centre for the Study of Applied Human Rights at the University of York, City University London and the IOM. The research, which was present today, concentrates above all on the methods by which the bodies are handled, in both a legal context and relating to the practices of ensuring identification. The report is based on 27 interviews with representatives from both local and national institutions, as well as with civil society organisations.

An invisible humanitarian catastrophe. The project was created based on the necessity to restore dignity to so many, too many massacres which are taking place everyday at sea, as Simon Robin explains, a researcher at the University of York. “We have seen thousands of people die at the southern borders of the Mediterranean. Since last year we have arrived at a record number of 6,600 deaths. This is a real but invisible humanitarian catastrophe”, he emphasises. “When the Malaysian airlines plane disappeared, there was huge media attention. At the same time, we are seeing a huge number of migrants disappear, equivalent to five jumbo jets, but there is no political or journalistic coverage. European member states are simply ignoring the subject of effective identification, while we're trying to analyse and bring to light what are the best practices being shown.”

Simply numbers on Sicilian graves. The manager of the project if a young Italian researcher, Giorgia Mirto. “Visiting the cemeteries across Sicily one can see graves on which are engraved only numbers instead of names” she confirms. “The numbers remove the idea of personhood, while we must always remember that behind every number is a person, a family who are living in grief, those who do not know whether to cry for the missing of hope for their loved ones' return. The migrants who die and are forgotten”, she adds, “comprise a generation who instead do have a right to life, and to come to our country without risking their lives.” The project has concentrated in particular on the procedures established in Sicily for the recognition of the bodies. As the researchers emphasise, an important watershed was the shipwreck off Lampedusa on 3 October 2013, in which 387 people lost their lives. This massacre (the anniversary of which is in only a few days) changed the perception of the events into that of a mass disaster, and brought attention to various protocols, as well as best practices.

Angelo, the police inspector who searches Facebook for the families of the missing. “In recent years, there has been a huge effort by some people regarding this matter, from representatives of the state to legal doctors” Mirto adds, “as well as normal police inspectors.” One of these has been Angelo Milazzo who, from his office, has spent the last few years going beyond the call of duty to try and provide names to the missing. To this end he has also created a Facebook page, along with the Syrian community, in which he attempts to contact the families of the missing. This personal initiative has allowed the identification of 22 bodies out of 24.

What can be done? Among the best practices, the Mediterranean Missing project emphasises the crucial role of the office for Missing Persons entrusted to the Extraordinary Commission of Vittorio Piscitelli, who took up the cases of three shipwrecks which occurred on the 3rd and 11th October 2013, and 18th April 2015. In these instances, the office set up a range of protocols which have been proposed as guidelines for the management of these kinds of situations. The documents have allowed, in particular, the activation of forms of cooperation between the relevant actors engaged in the recognition of the cadavers. According to the researchers, the office's role ought be extended beyond the three cases cited. But above all, it ought become a coordinating office for the establishment of uniform standards across the country. The other crucial issue, according to the report, relates to the families of the missing, who ought take a central role: not only because “their place in the tragedy ought be recognised” but also because this would facilitate the experts' work in comparing data. Up till today, however, there is very little 'ante mortem' data received from victims' relatives. In particular, the researchers propose that more emphasis be placed on investigations. After a shipwreck the survivors are in fact interrogated, but only in relation to punishing the boat drivers, while very little data is collected in order to understand who was on the boat, where they came from, if they were alone or with a family. In the end, a transnational structure is needed for the management of data relating to missing migrants: databases shared between European states so as finally to be able to give a name to so many who die nameless in the Mediterranean.

Eleonora Camilli

Project "OpenEurope" - Oxfam Italia, Diaconia Valdese, Borderline Sicilia Onlus  

Translation: Richard Braude