In Tunisia, Zarzis is a port city where refugees en route to Europe frequently arrive when their boats become stranded in the choppy Mediterranean currents. One of its graveyards is already full of those who died attempting to cross the border.
Most of the graveyards in Zarzis are full because residents of Zarzis refuse to bury migrants in Muslim graves. Some of the headstones to non-Muslims have dates but no names. At such graveyards one can see row after row of the palest white, practically gleaming in the Mediterranean sun.
New Graveyards to bury the dead
Because the cemeteries in Zarzis remain congested one local Koraïchi felt that the freshly deceased required their own burial ground, and he purchased a parcel of land in honor of his brother, who drowned in the Mediterranean while attempting to reach Europe. He stated, “They died in the same waters, in the same sea, and were taken by the same salt.”
Koraïchi feels that everyone should show responsibility and construct burial grounds, ones with presence and wisdom, so that one day the families, dads, mothers, tribes, and countries realize that their children remain in a heavenly place, the first step to heaven.
According to the International Organization for Migration, 677 individuals have died trying to reach Europe along the central Mediterranean coast from Libya to Tunisia since the beginning of this year. Despite Europe’s efforts to stop departures, this figure has climbed significantly since last year’s migration standstill due to the pandemic.
These outcomes have only led to a worse situation arising. The increased number of migrations have led to more deaths of people with no burial grounds. Such conditions led Rachid Koraïchi to create his vision of the “Garden of Africa” that would be the final resting place for hundreds of unnamed men, women, and children whose bodies had washed up on the Tunisian city’s shores in previous years.
A special place
Koraïchi’s cemetery officially opened on June 9 with a capacity of 600 burials. The graveyard had, however, been taking in the dead since the beginning of 2019, shortly after purchasing the land. It’s already three-quarters full. Over the years Korachi has paid for burials out of his own wallet.
He created a little garden in the middle of an olive grove. The garden is complete with pomegranate trees and scented jasmine, glazed tiles, and twisting walkways.
In total, 600 sets of remains are interred in the two migrant cemeteries. Only three sets in both migrant cemeteries have names, however.
On a visit to the region on June 9 to dedicate a statue to the cemetery, Audrey Azoulay, UNESCO’s director-general, remarked, “For too long, mankind has shown its weakness, even indifference, when men and women drown and no one offers any assistance.” The director-general urged everyone to follow in Koraïchi’s footsteps.
Many of the items that wash ashore at Zarzis following shipwrecks end up collected and displayed in a neighboring museum. Clothes, toys, and shards of identity documents. More than 125,000 shards of life lost over two decades trying to reach Europe have been collected.