Snapshots of a human tragedy that continues, by Efi Latsoudi

The bodies of 21 migrants were found on a beach on the Aegean island of Lesbos, December 15, 2012, after the sinking of their boat. A young Afghan of 16 years, one of only two survivors indicated that the boat had left the coast of Turkey, had thirty
people aboard, mostly Afghans, when it capsized because of bad weather. Efi Latsoudi, resident and volunteer Mytilene the charity « To Chorio tou Oloi Mazi », which helped the families of the victims in their efforts, discusses the moments of this drama, and the obstacles, and indifferenceof the authorities.

One Saturday morning in December, the Thermi beach of Mytilene fills with corpses. “We’re upset, its the same story for so many years, So many deaths, it’s awful – they are human beings, “says an old man we met in the small port. The search of the Coast Guard, after the sinking of Friday, only started on Saturday with the arrival of the first body on the coast. There wasn’t any mobilization on the Friday afternoon, either from the authorities or the media. One survivor had however been discovered in a critical condition, but nobody was concerned about the presence of other possible survivors in the freezing waters.

The young survivor of the shipwreck was found by Frontex (1), at the point of death, after remaining several hours in the sea
frozen. He remains under observation in the hospital, he identified the bodies and remains the subject to interrogation. Eight days later, a charitable citizen bought him a five euros phone card so he could tell his mother in Iran that he was still alive.
the basic concern for the victim of a shipwreck, An individual whose parents and relatives are waiting numb with anxiety, for news. No state mechanism has been called to intervene or is bothered to respond.

According to testimony, there were eight to ten people in the boat who have not been found. Among them, women and children. The days passed, the bodies were not recovered. Will they ever be? Requests from desperate parents come to Mytilene, that the relevant services and bureaucracy can not be satisfied. Relatives who live far away, Afghanistan, Iran or refugees in neighboring countries, will have to wait months or even years of pain and anguish before getting even vague information about the fate of their loved ones. If the search is sometimes hampered for economic limitations the grief suffered after loss of a loved one is always limitless.

One can only imagine the extent of the mobilization if these bodies had been those of a passenger cruise ship, a ferry or commercial vessel. One might imagine quite simply that even a part of the huge funds allocated by the EU to monitor its
external borders might be affected to this tragic situation, so as to fulfill our duty at least the dead. Some relatives residing in European countries have had to overcome countless obstacles to get to come on site to recognize their dead, and paid for a very expensive process for the repatriation and burial in Afghanistan. For relatives, the funeral in accordance with Islam is crucial, and for this purpose no sacrifice is great enough. As long as they stayed in the city of Mytilene, the
smugglers and some funeral offices gravitate towards them like a flock of crows, with the intention of providing their services to achieve maximum profit. In the absence of elementary concern on the part of the authorities, there will always be individuals ready to “help” at a high price.

The son of a deceased, in grief, is trying get to Mytilene. He has a residence permit, he is a permanent resident in Germany. In Piraeus, the Coast Guard does not recognize his papers, and detains him,questioning him, and he misses his boat. He arrives by plane the next day desperate to Mytilene. He looks for the body of his father, in vain. When he had to go, broken, it took citizens to accompany him to the airport so he could finally leave. The Police didn’t take into account either the legality of the documents in his possession, nor the tragic circumstances of his trip, only the nationality Afghan he wore like a stigma, and that defined him.

Eight bodies are recognised and returned. Bureaucratic procedures are complicated, but also requests for identification that continue arrive, preventing the burial of other victims. Two more bodies will eventually be identified, following the dramatic steps of relatives to recover them . Almost 20 days have passed since the shipwreck, a few journalists spot an infamy but what concerns them is not the lack of interest shown by the State, but that they died without being buried ” the smell threatens the city” (2). Family members continue,at the price of a thousand difficulties, to reach Mytilene facing the terrible task of recognizing their relatives. Father and mother recognize their child through photographs and asking for him to be buried there, because they have no money for burial in their own country.

The refugees revolt them, the refugees endanger them. Under the pressure of newspaper articles, the funeral finally took place on the order of prosecutor. We insist that they take place during the day and not at night, as that would have required compliance with the letter of instruction. Twelve people were buried in the cemetery of the city of Mytilene.
These burials were dictated by the public interest, to avoid a health risk to the city, not through any human obligation to the people who die where we live. Bystanders are present, observing the horror of a mass burial, the authorities are finally there, at the last minute. The mayor also spoke, moved, recalling that “they are human beings.”

The dead compatriots, Afghans living in the city of Mytilene, -take care of the graves. They level off the ditches previously made with a bulldozer, leveling the ground with their hands, and with pain and respect, make prayers befitting their dead countrymen With marble slabs, on which were drawn numbers and dates put on the earth with the flowers we had brought, embarrassed, ignorant of their burial customs. “For us, we don’t put flowers, “they told me, however, accepting them with
gratitude. On leaving the manager of the cemetery florist, ran to us to put on a bouquet of white carnations. “Put this on too,
Please, we can no longer see these people die like that-it is unbearable! “I could not answer him or hardly look at his face ‘


Our dead are human beings. Migrants who cross the border, hunted are humans, and there is no category to classify them in, they are no more or less human than others. The authorities give them racist treatment, in life as in death. The media label them gluing to them the unacceptable label “€œillegal immigrant” and relegate them to a category of beings lower than those who may die massively on our border deprived of burial and mourning. If they survive, they will be detained in appalling conditions, and dragged lengthily before the justice.

If this racist logic of the state towards migrants does not change radically in our society, fascism will continue to take root more deeply, and this pestilence will spread to the Greeks as well as immigrants, because it does not discriminate.

PS: The discovery of three new bodies on a beach at the south of the island of Chios, a few days ago [Saturday, January 13], increases the number of tragic deaths and clearly shows that the drama continues every day.

translated from Greek by TMG