The clandestine cemeteryBurying the victims of Europe’s border in a Tunisian coastal town

Human Remains and Violence, Volume 5, No. 1 (2019), 18–37
Valentina Zagaria
Africa / Europe and Central Asia
Zarzis ; Tunisia ; Africa
Thematic Area
Burial Site / Mass Grave / Management of the Dead / Memorialization / Migration
Open access

The Mediterranean Sea has recently become the deadliest of borders for illegalised travellers. The victims of the European Union’s liquid border are also found near North African shores. The question of how and where to bury these unknown persons has recently come to the fore in Zarzis, a coastal town in south-east Tunisia. Everyone involved in these burials – the coastguards, doctors, Red Crescent volunteers, municipality employees – agree that what they are doing is ‘wrong’. It is neither dignified nor respectful to the dead, as the land used as a cemetery is an old waste dump, and customary attitudes towards the dead are difficult to realise. This article will first trace how this situation developed, despite the psychological discomfort of all those affected. It will then explore how the work of care and dignity emerges within this institutional chain, and what this may tell us about what constitutes the concept of the human.