Why a cemetery in Zarzis?
Since the closure of the Balkan route, refugees and others who try to reach Europe in the hope of a safer future, must take on the dangerous journey from Libya. Men, women and children set sail in overcrowded rickety boats; boats that often do not stand a chance on open sea.
Zarzis is a town on the coast of Tunisia, near the Libyan border. Due to the wind and sea currents, the bodies of the drowned wash ashore the beaches of this town. The local fishermen help the people in need but also often bring the corpses to land. Aid organizations at sea do the same.
Currently Zarzis has no suitable cemetery to bury the drowned in a decent way.
Is the problem with drowned people a temporary problem?
In the absence of a structural solution to the refugee crisis, migrants will continue to risk their lives, leaving Libya for a safer or better future. Corpses will therefore continue to wash ashore.
What is the situation in Zarzis now?
The bodies of drowned people used to be buried in the available cemeteries in Zarzis. However, since the regime change in Libya, the number of refugees departing from this country towards Europe increased rapidly. Not expecting the large numbers of drowned bodies and the shape in which these were found, a new solution was needed. A former landfill outside of the city was then made available for the purpose of burying the drowned.
As this practice continued, volunteers from the Red Crescent (the local Red Cross) began working towards setting up a decent cemetery.
Why is there still no cemetery?
The main reason for the absence of a cemetery is the economic crisis. Although Tunisia is considered the most promising country after the Arab Spring, economic developments are going extremely slowly. And in the disadvantaged south of the country the situation is much worse.
Due to these circumstances, the problem with the drowned people was for years not treated as a priority by the local government. Only in this past year, 2017, did it clearly come on the agenda. The local government now acknowledges the urgency but the means are still lacking.
Why Foundation DMC?
The lack of a customary cemetery for drowned migrants is a humanitarian problem. The victims deserve a decent final resting place. The volunteers earn support in their years of work to make the best of a bad situation. These volunteers have put a lot of effort in raising awareness among the local population and politicians about this problem. Since there was no positive change for years, Red Crescent Tunisia launched a crowd funding campaign last year. Even though this initiative did receive media attention, it unfortunately didn’t manage to collect the necessary financial resources.
Foundation DMC is committed to realizing a worthy final resting place for drowned migrants. Foundation DMC collects money for the purchase of a piece of land and for helping set up and manage the cemetery.
Is there no support internationally?
The priorities of most international NGOs naturally go towards the support of the living migrants. Tunisia is no exception. But that shouldn’t detract from the fact that the dead must also be well taken care of.
Zarzis has already managed to collect international resources for the transportation of bodies and the registration and documentation of the remains. This allows for possible identification in the future. However, this money will only become available, if first a cemetery is set up.
Foundation DMC therefore consults with various organizations and embassies, in order to realize the cemetery in cooperation with all relevant local actors.
How much money is needed?
The required piece of land has a size of approximately 50 x 50 meters. This piece of land will be walled in and will provide space for the graves. In addition, functional and simple buildings will be realized: a wash and research room for the bodies, an administrative room, a room to store the clothing and other belongings of the victims (this serves identification purposes), and an open accessible memorial space (see pdf for an example map). The estimated price for the purchase and settlement is 40,000 euros.