ZARZIS, Tunisia: A cemetery in southern Tunisia for migrants who drowned crossing the Mediterranean within the hope of a greater life in Europe is already half full — even earlier than it’s formally opened.
Jardin d’Afrique, French for Backyard of Africa, is for many who have been “the wretched of the ocean,” stated Rachid Koraichi, the Algerian artist and Sufi Muslim who constructed the cemetery.
These migrants, a lot of whom drowned after boarding flimsy and overloaded boats whereas dealing with extortion from “gangsters and terrorists,” deserve a dignified resting place, he stated. “I needed to offer them a primary style of paradise,” 74-year-old Koraichi added.
His artwork contains sculptures and ceramics embellished with calligraphy, and has been exhibited from Venice to New York.
In 2018, he purchased a plot of land to host the cemetery within the southern Tunisian port of Zarzis, close to the Libyan border; an space the place numerous migrants have taken to sea through the years.
Greater than 200 white graves already fill the cemetery, surrounded by 5 olive bushes to represent the 5 precepts of Islam and 12 vines to characterize the 12 apostles who have been the primary disciples of Jesus.
Vicky, a 26-year-old from Lagos, Nigeria, arrived on foot to Tunisia after a number of failed bids to achieve Italy from Libya.
“Going to Europe was my dream,” she advised AFP as she swept the cemetery grounds. “However attempting to get there was hell.”
The cemetery was formally inaugurated on Wednesday by Audrey Azoulay, head of the UN’s cultural company UNESCO.
She paid tribute to these “castaways who perished in pursuit of a greater life” and to the “common solidarity of associations, fishermen … or others who save lives” on the Mediterranean.
“On this sea, inscribed with a part of humanity’s historical past, there unfolds at the moment a tragedy,” she added, mourning those that died “uncared for and forgotten.”
A lot of these buried there stay anonymous for now, and the headstones bear grim and scant details about them.
One is inscribed with the phrases: “Girl, black gown, Hachani seashore,” indicating the situation the place she was discovered. One other reads: “Man, black sweater, 4 Seasons Lodge seashore.”
“After I see this, I’m not sure anymore that I wish to make the ocean crossing once more,” cemetery sweeper Vicky stated.
Tunisia and neighboring Libya are key departure factors for migrants, many from sub-Saharan African, who try the damaging crossing from the North African coast to Europe, significantly Italy.
In early Could, the UN’s refugee company UNHCR stated that not less than 500 folks had died attempting to cross the central Mediterranean this 12 months, greater than triple the 150 in the identical interval of 2020.
Koraichi, whose brother was swept away by a present whereas swimming for leisure within the Mediterranean, funded the cemetery by promoting a few of his paintings. His brother’s physique was by no means discovered.
“I needed to assist the households get closure and for them to know that there’s a place for a dignified burial” of their family members, he stated.
“It is usually a symbolic place, just like the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier,” he stated, referring to monuments to fallen servicemen that may be discovered internationally.
A wood door relationship again to the seventeenth century leads into the cemetery the place hand-painted ceramics line the bottom and aromatic flowers, together with jasmin, fill the air with a candy scent.
A white cupola sits atop a chapel the place worshippers from all faiths can pray.
Area has been allotted for a morgue and forensics lab to assist establish the lifeless.
Up to now just one household from war-torn Libya has visited the cemetery to hope on the graveside of a younger relative who had been recognized by journey companions.
“We supplied to allow them to take his physique house however his father replied ‘God has deserted Libya, maintain him right here,’” Koraichi stated.
Koraichi is a member of the Tijaniyyah order of Sufism, a non secular type of Islam, which originated in North Africa earlier than spreading to different components of the continent.
He selected Zarzis because the place to construct the Backyard of Africa after studying that authorities within the fishing port have been struggling to bury dozens of our bodies of migrants that had washed up on its shores.
Municipal employees had buried greater than 600 unidentified migrants — from sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and elsewhere — in a sandy, windswept plot close to an outdated metropolis dump.
That burial floor was already full when, in July 2019, one other 100 our bodies arrived, overwhelming the municipality.
That was when the primary graves have been dug on the Backyard of Africa, even earlier than the work to construct the ornate cemetery had began.
Since then — and particularly in summer time when the variety of sea crossings rise — our bodies that washed up on the shores of Zarzis and across the area are introduced in for burial every week.
Round 200 white bricks mark every empty grave within the cemetery.
Koraichi fears that they are going to refill by the top of the summer time.