Screenshot from tunisienumerique.com (Tunisia News) which reported Monday that the families of the missing exhumed several graves in the Gardens of Africa cemetery
Screenshot from tunisienumerique.com (Tunisia News) which reported Monday that the families of the missing exhumed several graves in the Gardens of Africa cemetery

The families of Tunisian migrants missing since their boat sank in September have dug up graves in a cemetery in an effort to find out for themselves whether their loved ones are buried there.

More than a month after a boat carrying 18 migrants sank off the coast of Zarzis in Tunisia – leaving no survivors – the families of those who died have taken extreme steps to try to locate the bodies of their loved ones.

On Monday (November 7), some of the parents of those who remain missing after the fatal journey on September 21 went to a cemetery in Zarzis and dug up graves in the hope that they might find and identify the deceased.

The 18 migrants who died in the tragedy included a 14-month-old baby, two women and 15 men, according to Alarm Phone, a network helping to save lives in the Mediterranean.

Tunisians and sub-Saharan Africans often depart from Zarzis, which is relatively close to the Italian island of Lampedusa : Photo: InfoMigrants
Tunisians and sub-Saharan Africans often depart from Zarzis, which is relatively close to the Italian island of Lampedusa : Photo: InfoMigrants


Eight of the bodies were found. One of the women, Malek, was washed up on the beach of Djerba. The bodies were quickly buried in a cemetery for migrants, without their families being informed. Four of the deceased were then identified as Tunisians, not migrants from elsewhere in Africa for whom the 'Garden of Africa' cemetery was intended.

The Garden of Africa, the initiative of Algerian artist Rachid Koraichi, was formally opened last year to provide a dignified resting place for migrants who died at sea, many of them unidentified.

"It was a mistake by the authorities to have buried these people without prior DNA sampling," president of the Tunisian Red Crescent, Mongi Slim, told InfoMigrants at the time.

Also read: Outrage, mourning in Tunisia after tragic migration attempt

The 'Garden of Africa' cemetery was created so that unidentified migrants who died at sea could be buried with dignity | Photo: DW
The 'Garden of Africa' cemetery was created so that unidentified migrants who died at sea could be buried with dignity | Photo: DW

Protests continue

After families objected, the bodies of those four Tunisians were exhumed and transferred to other resting places. Three of the deceased were identified by relatives.

In October the Tunisian president, Kaïs Saïed, ordered an investigation into the shipwreck, but the family members of the victims say too little was done, and some accuse the authorities of deliberately deceiving them to cover up for their own inaction.

Around 500 people protested on October 12 in Zarzis calling on the authorities to intensify the search for migrants who are still missing.

Also read: UN envoy apologizes for insensitive remarks on missing migrant families

The Tunisian news agency TAP reported that the families and activists also established a protest camp on Monday at the Zarzis port demanding to be told the truth about those who died.

Another deadly shipwreck

The Tunisian National Guard reported on Tuesday (November 7) that another boat had sunk off the coast near the northern city of Bizerte. The boat had reportedly been carrying 16 people who were trying to cross the Mediterranean to Italy.

One body was recovered – various news reports said between 6 and 10 others were rescued from the sea. Late Tuesday the coast guard was continuing a search for five people believed to be missing.

Since the start of this year, more than 22,500 migrants have been intercepted off the coast of Tunisia, including nearly 11,000 from sub-Saharan Africa, according to official figures.

The Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights, a human rights group, told DW that by the end of September it had counted 507 dead or missing, presumed drowned, as a result of attempts to leave the country via the Mediterranean.

More than 77,000 irregular migrants have reached the coasts of Italy this year. Following Egyptians, Tunisians are the second-most common nationality of migrants arriving irregularly in Italy.

With AFP, Reuters

 

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