What can we do to stop the need for unmarked graves?

Ai Weiwei KonzerthausIn February the artist Ai Weiwei wrapped 14,000 lifejackets around the façade of Berlin’s Konzerthaus (concert hall).

Used by some of the Syrians, Iraqis and others washing up on the shore of the Greek island of Lesbos on desperate quests for sanctuary in Europe, the jackets now spiral up the six columns of the concert hall in a temporary monument to misery and hope. As art, Ai says, they are meant to jar. More specifically, they are intended to shock the continent out of complacency at a time when European countries are, one by one, shutting their doors to asylum seekers. [Washington Post, emphasis added]

The lifejackets are a reminder of the people who use them. Many survive their perilous journeys, but some don’t. Bodies also wash up along the Mediterranean coastline.

BBC News Europe drowned refugees 1It was upsetting yesterday to read about drowned migrants buried in unmarked graves in Europe. Refugees making a desperate and dangerous journey that resulted in death. Fellow human beings washed ashore with no papers or ID intact to help with identification. Laid to rest, displaced from home and unknown to family.

Combining family stories with statistics, the BBC report tracked down the location of unmarked grave sites in Turkey, Greece and Italy.

More than 1,000 migrants who have died crossing the Mediterranean have been buried in unmarked graves in Italy, Greece and Turkey.

Often bodies wash ashore days or even weeks after a shipwreck in a severely decomposed state, making the identification process difficult. In other instances entire families have drowned in the same incident, leaving no one behind able to identify the bodies.

BBC News Europe drowned refugees 2DNA samples are usually taken from bodies to help match the dead with surviving family members who search for them. In Italy, families can approach the National Office for Missing Persons.

At the moment at least two-thirds of its work is dedicated to the identification of missing migrants, according to department head Vittorio Piscitelli.

Once all the information about the victim is gathered it all goes into a folder, which is then assigned a case number. This is the number that will become that migrant’s new ID on their grave …

“Every day we’re trying to give a name to these men, women and children that are swallowed by the sea and lose everything: their lives, future, family and even their identity,” Piscitelli adds.

“These people become ghosts, with no human dignity. We want to give them back some dignity with a name on their grave instead of just a number.”

The challenge is what can we do to stop the need for unmarked graves? What can we do to stop the need for journeys across the sea in vessels that are not fit for purpose? What can we do to comfort the worried and the grieving? What can we do to raise the orphaned and tend to the broken hearted and the sick?