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Long list of human suffering

15 November 20170 comments

Sometimes the sheer scale of human tragedy is difficult to comprehend.

Last week a German newspaper attempted to conceptualize the number of people who have died on their journey to Europe, seeking refuge from conflict and poverty.

Berlin-based daily Der Tagesspiegel published a list of more than 33,000 names of people who have died attempting to reach safety in Europe.

Last year was the deadliest yet for migrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea. More than 5,000 perished or went missing during their journey to Europe, according to the UN’s migration agency, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).

The list and accompanying story was intended to make a statement about Europe’s “restrictive policy” on asylum seekers, refugees, and migrants

It referred to victims as “human beings, with an origin, a past, a life,” according to a translation of the story’s introduction.

“We want to honour them on the one hand, and at the same time make it clear that every line tells a story,” wrote the paper’s editors Stephan-Andreas Casdorff and Lorenz Maroldt.

The list covered 46 pages and included names, ages and countries of origin, when available, as well as how the victims died and their date of death. Often, though, they never were identified.

One entry said Iraqi migrant Talat Abdulhamid, 36, froze to death on January 6 after walking for 48 hours through the mountains on the Turkish-Bulgarian border.

Another, citing the United Nations refugee agency, was for a 15-year-old boy who drowned on November 15, 2016 when a rubber dinghy he was on with 23 others sank while trying to get from Libya to Europe.
The newspaper said it wanted to document, “the asylum-seekers, refugees and migrants who died since 1993 as a consequence of the restrictive policies of Europe on the continent’s outer borders or inside Europe”.

Some of the immigrants who succeeded in reaching Europe later died in violent attacks or killed themselves in custody while waiting to be deported back to their home countries.

The vast majority of the people on the newspaper’s list drowned on the Mediterranean Sea while trying to make their way to Europe.

The most recent listings were for two unidentified people, one of them a child, and dated May 29, 2017. The entry says: “Two bodies found, 28 missing, drowned or stamped down in a panic when their boat sank off Libya.”


Laurie Nowell
AMES Australia Senior Journalist