ZARZIS, 27 June 2021 – Algerian artist Rashid al-Qurashi has designed a special cemetery in Zarzis, Tunisia, to honor migrants killed as they crossed the sea into Europe.
Qureshi has named the cemetery the “Garden of Africa” and says his goal is to ensure the “honorable burial” for migrants who die in the Mediterranean Sea.
The idea came from Qureshi’s daughter, according to the artist, who explains that his daughter was horrified by the undignifying way in which the remains of migrants who died at sea were disposed of.
Qureshi’s daughter said she was devastated during a visit to Zarzis to find out that migrants who died in the Meditteranean Sea were buried in middle of a dump.
Thanks to their effort, the African Garden – which covers a surface area of 2500 square meters and surrounded by walls – holds the remains of lost migrants in decent graves that are decorated with flowers with a sign on every grave showing the name, gender, and date of death.
The tombs of all victims – Muslims, Christians, Buddhist or any other religious belief – look identical.
“I promised my God that all tombs would be the same,” Qureshi says of the project.
The cemetery project also provides the families of “missing” migrants a better possibility of identifying where their loved ones were laid to rest.
The personal experience of Qureshi was a major motivation in designing the cemetery and ensuring that it became reality.
“My big brother was also drowned in the Mediterranean Sea many years ago,” Qureshi recalled. “We could not find his body. My mother was still asking about him when she was lying on her deathbed”.
Only ten of the thousands of victims buried in the cemetery so far have been fully identified by family members – the start in what Qureshi says is a long journey to allow people to find closure.
For the Algerian artist, the cemetery is also consolation for the victims. “I have built their own palaces on earth,” he says of the cemetery.
Tens of thousands of mostly African migrants have drowned trying to cross the Meditteranean Sea into Europe.
At least 500 people are known to have lost their lives ever since the beginning of 2021 while attempting to cross along the Central Mediterranean route, according to a spokesperson for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) Carlotta Sami.