Organised by the families of the disappeared and supporters, a CommemorAction took place in Zarzis, Tunisia, from the 3rd to 6th of September 2022. Ten years earlier, on 6 September 2012, a boat with about 130 people from the Tunisian region of Sfax had capsized near Lampione, close to Lampedusa – only 56 people survived.
On the tenth anniversary of this disaster, over 100 people came together in Zarzis: families of the disappeared from different countries in Africa, local fishermen, members of Tunisian and international associations and activist networks. Over four days, workshops were held where the families reported on their determined struggles to find answers and exchanged with solidarity activists from Senegal, Morocco, Niger, as well as different European countries about possibilities to continue the search for the missing.
One of the mothers of the disappeared, Fatma Kasroui, said: “I hope we can make you listen to our voices. We are tired, we are old, we just need the truth. We hope that there will be no borders anymore and that our Haragas do not need to go to the sea anymore.” One of the fishermen present spoke about their experience of rescuing people in distress for over twenty years: “We don’t care who the people are we rescue. We don’t give passports to people. We see people drowning and we go and rescue.”
After three days of workshops, the families led a powerful demonstration through the city of Zarzis to the seaside and the local harbour. Speeches were held, flowers were laid into the sea, the missing and the dead were collectively remembered.
When learning about the CommemorAction in Zarzis, Vincent Cochetel, the UNHCR’s special envoy for the Western and Central Mediterranean responded by writing: “Grieving for the loss. But the same mothers had no problem encouraging or funding their children to embark on those dangerous journeys. Like in Senegal, symbolically prosecuting parents for putting at risk their children could trigger serious attitudinal change on death journeys.” This scandalous comment, which blamed mourning mothers and even called for their criminalisation caused outrage among the families of the disappeared and supporters.
In a statement, several mothers and sisters of the disappeared responded and called for Mr Cochetel’s resignation. Jalila Taamallah, for example, noted: “It is the visa and border system that has put migrants in danger, not their mothers. It is the fault of migration policies that cause the deaths of people crossing the Mediterranean. Therefore, we will continue to participate in the demonstrations for freedom of movement. You can’t kill our demand for truth and justice.” Nourhene Khenissi, the sister of a disappeared person, said: “Before attacking the mothers of the disappeared, it would have been better if you had criticised the Tunisian and Italian states, especially the European Union, because it is the first and last cause of all these tragedies. And know that freedom of movement and traveling is a right for every human being.”
Picture: Sam photography