This article contains the words of those affected by the murderous border regime who struggle so the dead and the missing are not silenced and forgotten

“We, families of the missing”

Letter written by Laila Waleed Hasan, a young woman from Syria. Her brother, Jihad Walid Hassan, is missing since he left Tunisia by boat on the 4th of March 2022. Laila writes about the long journey that the families had to go through in their search for their loved ones.

The boat in which my brother traveled departed on the 4th of March at 8pm. In this boat were Syrian, Palestinian and Tunisian people. The boat was carrying a number ranging between 57 and 68 people and was heading towards the island of Lampedusa in Italy, which usually takes around 18 hours to reach by sea. The day after, the news spread that the boat had arrived on the island of Pantelleria (in Italy), and that travelers were now in quarantine for 14 days.

14 days later, some bodies of the people who were on board began to appear on scattered beaches in Tunisia, in the areas of El Haouaria, Kelibia and Nabeul (coastal cities in the North-East of Tunisia). Most of the bodies found, between 30-35 people (mainly women, children and elderly people), were taken to Taher Maamouri Hospital in Nabeul. Apart from these bodies found, a large number of people remain missing until now.

Consequently, we started to search in Italy through the Italian Red Cross. They refused to help except with an official letter directed by the Syrian Red Cross, which in turn, was unable to provide a helping hand under the pretext of imposed sanctions on Syria. Afterwards, we contacted the Italian Coast Guard that offered no help at all, and even tried to extract and elicit information from us. Then, one of the families of the missing traveled to Italy and tried to search there: in vain.

Then we tried to search in Malta through the Maltese Coast Guard, which confirmed that there none of the missing persons were registered in their records. Later on, some news spread that 6 Tunisians from the same boat communicated with their families and told them that they were in a Maltese prison. We verified this information and found out that until mid-March, the last entry of refugees into Malta was at the end of 2021.

We also contacted several ships that carried out rescue operations during that period. We came back full of disappointment after the ships’ unclear responses, such as not giving the names of those who were with them for security reasons and then denying the presence of any Palestinian, Syrian or Tunisian with them.

We contacted Tunisian authorities again but they have not yet announced clear news regarding the passengers of the mentioned boat. An official of the Syrian community in Tunisia did not make any statement and when we contacted him personally, his response was that all the passengers of the trip drowned. The Tunisian Ministry of Interior reported on its website that 205 illegal immigration operations had been thwarted from January 1 to April 20, 2022 and that 3.160 people were arrested, including 2.249 foreigners and 911 Tunisians. However, we couldn’t get any information about the missing people. According to our follow-up of the news, most of the people departing from Tunisia by boat are rescued, a few remain counted as missing and sometimes, the bodies appear on the beach.

We later contacted the hospitals in Nabeul, which requested us to provide them with DNA samples to match them with the DNA samples collected from the bodies found. Again, we faced countless financial, legal and procedural difficulties, whether in Syria or in Lebanon. After a long effort, we, the families, managed to collect our DNA. However, the hospital did not give us a way to send the samples, but rather we were treated with infinite disdain and were asked to travel To Tunisia! Also, when the family of a missing person called Cosette contacted the hospital to photograph her closely in order to identify her, the hospital never answered.

And for the record, we tried calling my brother’s number (Jihad Waleed Hasan) on March 13 at 6pm repeatedly for 5 times. The phone was ringing but there was no answer. Here, the following questions came to our mind: was the phone confiscated by smugglers? Were the missing persons alive to that date and not rescued? Was there a forced disappearance of some of the travelers in Tunisia? We also tried to contact the numbers of all the missing people in the month of May, and there were many phones ringing, with the line being on for seconds and then off again.

We also searched in Libya in separate areas, whether inside or outside the government-controlled areas through our acquaintances, and several news spread about their presence in a Libyan prison, but there is no news confirming or denying their presence there.

We, the families of the missing, have moved spontaneously to search for our simple capabilities and have been subjected to exploitation and fraud attempts, but we still have a glimmer of hope in finding news that heals our wounded and stagnant hearts. We demand and appeal to everyone who can help us or at least contribute to delivering our voice to parties that can help us reach our children.

Lihidheb Mohsen, Beach in Zarzis

Rest in peace, Abdel

Abdel Wahab Yousif is a young Sudanese poet who drowned in the Mediterranean in August 2020.

أن تموت في عرضِ البحرِ

حيث الموج يصطفق بصخب في رأسكَ

والماء يأرجح جسدكَ

.كقارب مثقوب


فى مقتبل العمر

.دون أن تبلغ الثلاثين بعد

،ليس سيئاً أن تغادر باكراً أبداً

السيء، أن تموت وحيداً

،دون امرأة

،تقول لك : تعال إلىَّ، حضنى يتسع لكَ

.دعني اغسل روحكَ مِن درنِ البؤس

You’ll die at sea.

Your head rocked by the roaring waves,

your body swaying in the water,

like a perforated boat….

In the prime of youth you’ll go, shy of your 30th birthday.

Departing early is not a bad idea;

but it surely is if you die alone,

with no woman calling you to her embrace:

“Let me hold you to my breast,

I have plenty of room.

Let me wash the dirt of misery off your soul”.

Abdel Wahab Yousif

Translation from Arabic by Adil Babikir

Entre Zarzis et Lampedusa

De l’autre coté de la mer,

Tu enterres les corps de mes frères,

Je sais, je sais ce que tu ressens,

A force de l’avoir fait souvent.

C’est dur, très dur, mon ami,

D’être témoin de cette infamie,

Avec un sentiment d’impuissance,

Devant cette cynique violence.

Moi aussi sur le littoral sud,

Ce sont Mamadou, Ali et Oualid,

Que j’ai humblement accompagné,

Avec des prières au ciel criées,

Pour faire parvenir leur calvaire,

A Dieu l’immense de l’univers.

Tu n’as pas seulement enterré les corps,

Mais l’âme de toute l’humanité.

Tu étais seul devant chaque naufragé.

Il était seul quand tu l’as enterré.

Chacun était seul sur les vagues de la mer.

Chacun a quelque part un père et une mère.

J’étais seul à les mettre sous terre,

Ils étaient seuls arrosés par mes sueurs.

Un oiseau seul survolait la scène,

De deux hommes qui s’enterrent sans haine.

Oui, mon ami Vincenzo Lombardo de Lampedusa,

Moi, de Zarzis, Mohsen surnommé Boughmiga,

Nous sommes certainement les seuls amis des Harraga,

Que nous avons bien traités vivants, bien traités morts,

Que nous avons respecté, comme des frères,

Dans ton cimetière de Lampedusa,

Et sur mon monticule de Ras Lemsa.

On the other side of the sea,

You bury the bodies of my brothers,

I know, I know how you feel,

Having done it so many times.

It is hard, very hard, my friend,

To witness this infamy,

With a feeling of helplessness,

In front of this cynical violence.

I, also on the southern coast,

They are Mamadou, Ali and Oualid,

That I humbly accompanied,

With prayers to the sky shouted,

To send their ordeal,

To God the immense of the universe.

You did not only bury the bodies,

But the soul of all mankind.

You were alone in front of each castaway.

He was alone when you buried him.

Each one was alone on the waves of the sea.

Everyone has somewhere a father and a mother.

I was alone to put them in the ground,

They were alone watered by my sweat.

A single bird flew over the scene,

Of two men who bury themselves without hatred.

Yes, my friend Vincenzo Lombardo of Lampedusa,

I, from Zarzis, Mohsen nicknamed Boughmiga,

We are certainly the only friends of the Harragas,

That we have treated well alive, well treated dead,

That we respected, like brothers,

In your cemetery of Lampedusa,

And on my mound of Ras Lemsa.

Lihidheb Mohsen, Eco artist and poet living in Zarzis

Cemetery, « Jardin des Africains »,  Zarzis, October 2019

ECHOES Issue 2, September 2022