Most of this article was first published in “5 years Alarm Phone” booklet, in autumn 2019. We added as a last part the outcomes of a meeting of the families of missing migrants, after the first collective Commemoraction has taken place in Oujda, Morocco, from 6th to 8th of February 2020. The meeting in Oujda became bigger then expected, when finally around 90 people from Morocco, including many sub-Saharan migrants met with families of the missing and activists from various countries to commemorate the victims of the massacre 6 years ago on the beach of Tarajal. On 6th of February 2014, more than 200 migrants tried to enter the city of Ceuta, a Spanish enclave, from Moroccan territory through the beach of Tarajal. The Spanish Guardia Civil fired smoke cartridges and rubber bullets at the people in the water to prevent them from entering Spanish territory. Fifteen migrants were killed on the Spanish side, dozens disappeared and others died on Moroccan territory. In Oujda in February we became active with public conferences, exhibitions and artistic performances, testimonies of survivors, a sit-in at the Moroccan-Algerian border and a “Commemoration Caravan” to the city of Saidia, in commemoration of all the dead and missing at sea and on the land borders. The gathering in Morocco was accompanied by actions in many cities in Africa and Europe. Alarme Phone Sahara was part of Commemoraction with activities in Agadez in Niger, Bamako in Mali, Sokodé in Togo and in Edéa, Cameroon (link).
The coming together in Oujda was one of the most fruitful ideas we had discussed in our workshop on commemoration during the Transborder Summercamp in le ZAD. In the following we document an article we had written for the 5 years Alarm Phone booklet, to summarize the various experiences we had shared in the Transbordercamp. A lot of these experiences came together again in Oujda in various testimonies – and we will meet again hopefully in Tunisia next year. For further appointments that have been made in Oujda, you can read the second part, which is a summary of the outcomes of the meetings with the families we had in Oujda.
Article about the experiences of the CommemorAction-workshop in the 5 years Alarm Phone booklet, October 2019
Many of us are confronted with death at Europe’s external borders and elsewhere. We cannot forget those who have been killed or forcibly disappeared. To end this continuous dying is also one of the Alarm Phone’s main motivations. During the Transborder Summer Camp in Nantes this year, individuals and groups with different backgrounds and experiences came together to turn our grief into collective action. In this short article, we document some of the contributions made during the workshop. Among the participants were relatives of the missing from Tunisia, those active in different Moroccan borderzones who try to identify the deceased, activists who maintain the platform “Missing at Borders”2, and several others who try to commemorate the victims of the European border in the Mediterranean Sea, the Evros region, Calais, and elsewhere. For us, commemorating the dead is a part of our daily struggles.
PROCESSES OF IDENTIFICATION IN MOROCCO
S.: In Tangier, a lot of migrants and people lose their lives at sea. We who are there have no choice – we have to accompany these people. When the people die along the Moroccan coast, they are brought to Tangier. We have access to the morgue now, so I can help to identify people. The process of identification feels cynical – we can say we manage to move out bodies and make space for new bodies to come. We take pictures to see if someone can identify them. I go back to the migrant communities and ask around: what clothes were people wearing when they left, do they have particular marks like tattoos, do they have long hair like rasta? If someone thinks that they might know them, I ask them if they want to see the pictures. This is hard. When people are at sea for a long time, they are deformed, they have marks, injuries. So sometimes it is very difficult to tell if they were our friends.
Speaking to the relatives is the hardest. Sometimes when we call the parents and we speak with them, they hang up and stop speaking to you. It is hard for them to accept. When there is silence, you just have to wait and maybe call them back. They need their time.
Then the question is what to do with the body. If the relatives don’t have money we can speak to the embassy or other friends – it is 3000-3500 Euros to send the body, so this is a lot of money. Sometimes we bury them in Morocco with the community if the relatives accept and sometimes they come and join. Sometimes relatives who can’t come ask whether they can have something from the person, a tooth or the clothes, so that they can bury what belonged to the person at home.
FAMILIES OF THE DISAPPEARED
S.: I came here from Tunisia to represent more than 500 mothers of missing children. Since April 2011 we are uncertain about what happened to our children. We have asked Tunisian authorities, but whenever we make demonstrations, the police meet us with brutality. They tell us that an investigation is going on, but there is no investigation. They told us that our children are dead, but they are not, they are missing. If they are dead, we want a proof and something to bury. They say that they will give us a death certificate, but we need a proof that they are dead. The European authorities have the power to force the Tunisian government into silence, and that is why they don’t react. If something like this happened to a European child, the whole world would stand behind the parents. But this is not the case for African parents. This is racism. I am asking everyone here to stand with us, to find the truth and find our kids. Why can Europeans travel just with ID-cards, when Africans with all their documents together can’t travel?
MISSING AT BORDERS/MILANO WITHOUT BORDERS
E.: In Milan, every first Thursday of the month we organise demonstrations, like the mothers of the disappeared in Argentina. People are forced by the state to disappear. People are forced into detention camps, where they are not able to speak to family and friends. The French invented disappearances at sea, when they killed Algerians, so there is a colonial dimension here too.
In Chile and Argentina, the mothers have a slogan: “our children were alive” – alive they left, alive we want them back. It is a political message. The families met between the movements in South America and Africa recently in Mexico and this has politicised them. It is important that families of disappeared get the chance to get to know each other.
It is also important for the families to see that there are people who care about their children, and try to make sure they are not forgotten. Whenever we talk about one person who has disappeared, there are also more victims behind; the families and friends. The platform “Missing at the border” publishes videos with testimonies from the families. We also propose to make a monument that these families can go to, to have a place to visit. Other Muslim families have a grave they can visit every Eid, but these families don’t have anything like that.
COMMEMORATING THE DEAD OF THE 6 FEBRUARY 2014 ATROCITIES IN CEUTA
H.: On 6 February 2016, we celebrated in Rabat in front of the embassy of Spain. We were over 600 activists. In 2018 we did a little action in Niger that connected to the launch of Alarm Phone Sahara. We connected to groups in Spain and in Ceuta and tried to work together with Moroccan associations for human rights and with the migrant council, migrant voices on the move and the trade union and we want to use the 6 February 2020 for a common action on commemoration. There will be a commemoration in Cameroon where many of the victims came from. There will also be an event in Ceuta as well as one in Rabat.
MEMORIALS OF WELCOME TO EUROPE IN GREECE:
M.: In 2010, we did a tour from Germany to the Evros region in northern Greece where many try to cross the river. An Afghan woman had told us that she had seen her husband for the last time in the river and she asked us to search for him. We took his picture and went to all the small prisons but unfortunately we could not find him. The day she lost him, 14 people had lost their lives in this region. So we went to the biggest hospital to the area and spoke to the coroner who collects the DNA and clothes and files them. We were sent to police stations and there we found the ring that the Afghan man had worn on the day he went missing. In the area there was a cemetery that followed Muslim traditions and we were told the 14 people were buried there. What we found was not a cemetery but a mass grave where refugees had been thrown into for 10 years.
The next year we went back to the area, with other relatives who were missing their relatives, because it was so important for them to see the place where their loved ones disappeared. We had a small ceremony and created a memorial there, a fountain with signs of the names of the missing
The next years we started on Lesvos with memorials. We always work together with relatives of the missing. There is one in the north of Lesvos and another one near Mytilene. Last year fascists destroyed it, threw it in the sea, but this year we will again do a ceremony.
DEATHS IN CALAIS
In the borderzone around Calais, sometimes we hear about deaths via relatives, friends or the media. We try to return the bodies if possible. There are also some associations that tried to visibilise death at the border the day after someone died and gathered in the centre of Calais. Some of these activists were arrested and there is also a strong police presence whenever we meet. We have a working group to coordinate for the legal and administrative procedures, as well as the psychological needs. We want to counter the invisibilisation of migrant death – 226 people died to cross from France to the UK. Now the border is extended into Belgium and increasingly militarised. So people are trying risky ways that are much longer, for example. they get onto trucks already in Brussels or elsewhere.
DEATHS AT SEA
Over the last years, we faced with Sea-Watch a situation where there are fewer rescue ships out there. Sometimes bodies are in the sea for days or weeks. Before, we could hand them over to larger boats, like MSF, to take the bodies to Europe so that the bodies could be identified. Now these larger boats are gone, and European authorities don’t want to take the bodies. So we have to bury them at sea – we can’t take them onto our boat, also in light of the lengthy stand offs when they don’t allow us to disembark people. So we go to the bodies and try to find special marks, like tattoos, and take pictures so that others might be able to identify them. Then we try to find a way to have a ceremony on the boat.
During our workshop in Nantes, we began to develop ways of commemorating that are more collective and that connect to practices of protest. We created the term “CommemorAction” as it contains a promise: We will not forget those who have lost their lives and we will fight against the borders that killed them. We will collectively build something from our grief. We will not be alone and we will not give up. We will carry on to struggle for the freedom of movement for all in our daily lives.
COMMEMORACTION IN OUJDA/MOROCCO
In February 2020 we gathered in Oujda, Morocco to come together at the 6 of February. To commemorate the vicitims of the murders at the border to Ceuta in 2014. And to come together with families from Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Cameroun and Mexico. Besides the various activities meetings among the families of deceased and missing migrants with victims of forcible disappearance and activists who support them took place to plan further steps. We document here a short briefing done by activists of the missingatborders-plattform with outcomes of these meetings:
Briefing from the meeting among families of deceased and missing migrants with victims of forcible disappearance and the activists who support them.
During “Commemora(c)tion” in Morocco, two meetings took place. Participants to the first meeting were families from Tunisia, from Algeria, a representative of Movimiento Migrante Mesoamericano M3 (Mid-America Migrants Movement) and activists from different networks, among which Alarm Phone, Missing at the borders, afrique-europe-interact, Welcome to Europe, Asylum and Migration Tribunal, “Milano senza Frontiere” and “Porti Aperti-Permesso di soggiorno per tutti”.
Two issues were discussed during the first meeting:
- The importance of holding another day of Commemora(c)tion,
- The need to improve the data collection method regarding missing persons and their families: a single form holding all useful data, with which to populate a private-access data base, to better gauge the depth of this problem.
Participants to the second meeting were families from Tunisia, Algeria, Camerun, Marocco, a representative of M3 and activists from the above-mentioned networks.
- It was decided the next day of “Commemorazione” shall be held in Tunisia in 2021. Date and location are yet to be decided, but in April 2020 there should be a meeting in Tunisia where discussion about preparations should begin.
- A decision was made to continue to reach out to families of migrants who are deceased, missing, and/or victims of forced disappearance, and are from other countries, to keep widening the network of relatives.
- A decision was made to open the Marocco section of the website www. missingattheborders.org specifically using information supplied by the families from Oujda, who lost their loved ones in 2002.
- Following a request by the Algerian family members, a decision was made to mobilise to build a working group to develop a legal strategy that will bring court cases which would serve as precedent, and focus around the cases of migrants who are deceased, missing, or victims of forced disappearance. It is therefore necessary to create an International Legal Coalition that groups all cases, because international institutions do not consider individual experiences. In order to build this “legal working group”, each participating country is required to select legal representatives who will systematically advance this project. Regarding countries on the northern shore of the Mediterranean Sea, the network Milano senza Frontiere, out of Milan, Italy, will contact potential legal representatives. As things unfold, we will seek to build an alliance with those who are organising the next Asylum and Migration Tribunal in Bruxelles in 2021. The representative of Movimiento Migrante Mesoamericano, speaking of the work being done from a legal aspect, has indicated that a meeting should take place in the coming months in Honduras, focusing on the juridical approach. Milano senza Frontiere will be tasked with contacting possible groups and individuals interested in the juridical strategy, with the following goals:
- Organise a meeting in 2020 to assess progress in the work done specifically about this topic
- Set up an opportunity for dialogue about this topic at the next “ Commemorazione” , which will take place in Tunisia in 2021.