By the time Nasenet Alme Wildmikael arrived in Germany in 2015, she had passed through four countries by land or sea and spent a month in an immigration prison. Wildmikael was 23 years old, petite, with plump cheeks and curly hair. She grew up in a small town in western Eritrea as her fourth of ten children. Her father died when she was young, and her mother raised her children alone while running a laundry shop. Although she had little money, she refused to let her children work. Wildmikael’s family life was happy. She loved cars and wanted to be a mechanic. However, she had little chance of getting the education she needed and her future was uncertain. “Even if she dreamed of having something more, I knew she would never get it,” she told me recently.
When Wildmikael was 16, she fell in love with a boy next door, Biniam, and soon became pregnant. In 2008 her son Yaphet was born. Binyamu attended the christening and she promised to marry Wild Michael, but left for Sudan before Yaphet turned one year old. This was her first heartbreak. Biniam did not explain why he left, but Wirt Mikael believed he was not ready to be a father and wanted to escape oppression in Eritrea. President Isaias Afwerki has been accused of various human rights abuses, including mass surveillance of Eritreans, arbitrary arrests, torture and indefinite conscription. Exit visas are required for Eritreans to leave the country, but the government rarely grants them. Many citizens feel trapped. According to the United Nations, about 5,000 people illegally risk leaving the country each month. (The Eritrean government denies committing human rights abuses.) Wildmikael’s brother had to serve in the military at the age of 16. Those caught trying to escape are either imprisoned or killed. “I didn’t want his son in the army,” Wild Mikael told me. When she was 18, she left Eritrea with Japheth and after three days of walking through the desert she reached Sudan.
In the capital, Khartoum, Wildmikael has been serving chai in cafés for six years. Biniamu also lived in this city, but was not involved in the life of Japheth. Both Wildmikael and Biniam were undocumented and had a precarious position in Sudan. Security forces kidnapped and sent back Eritreans living in Khartoum. By the spring of 2013, Viniam had left Sudan at the age of 26. Later that year, Wildmikael learned that he had disappeared. He texted friends throughout the trip, but his messages stopped after he boarded a ship in Libya to Italy, shortly afterward on October 3, when he died on Italy’s southernmost island, A rickety fishing boat, many filled with migrants, including Eritreans, sank off the island of Lampedusa. Authorities have found 366 of her bodies in the rubble. Among Khartoum’s tight-knit Eritrean community, photos of the alleged victims circulated, and Wildmikael saw someone who looked like Biniam. She felt sad. “I was really hurt by him, but I loved him,” she said. was.”
Two years later, Wildmikael decided to expand into Europe as well. “I knew it would be difficult to get from Sudan to Libya, especially if you were a woman,” she said. “I knew everything. But I made a decision.” She wanted to earn money, send it back to her mother at home, and give Yaphet the opportunity she was denied. I really wanted to study and live a normal life,” she told me. She decided to leave six-year-old Yaphet with her family friends in Khartoum. This was her second heartbreak. But it was for his safety. She knew a woman who drowned at sea with her sons. She figured that if Wild Michael defected to Europe, Yaphet could fly to join her.
She took a route through the Sahel desert where many immigrants died of hunger and thirst. Also, sexual violence is very common and some women take birth control pills before boarding. In Libya, she was held in a detention center in Tripoli. Guards fed her prisoners once a day and beat male detainees frequently. A month later she was released and paid about $2,000 to board a ship to Italy. “When she was on the boat, she thought she would never touch the ground again,” Wildmikael said. “But Alhamdulillah, We arrived. ” She continued on to Germany, where she was eventually granted asylum and given a two-year renewable residence permit. She moved to Vacha, a quiet town in the center of the country, where She attended classes and befriended an elderly German couple from her neighborhood who helped her shop at the grocery store.”I felt free,” she said.
However, when she called the German embassy in Khartoum to send Yaphet, he was told he could not join her. German law stipulated that she needed her father’s consent to bring him in, or a death certificate proving his father was dead. Missing immigrants were rarely found or identified, and Wildmikael had no proof of Biniam’s death. She hired a lawyer, but lawyers, she said, were unreliable without official documentation. When she met Wild Michael last year, she hadn’t seen Yaphet, now 14, in nearly eight years. They only interacted via daily video calls. She sent 300 euros per month to Sudan for the needs of Sudan, including the cost of her tutoring, because Sudan could not attend school as an illegal immigrant. “He’s a really smart boy,” she told me. “He studies every day and learns quickly.” Yaphet recently embarked on a perilous journey across the Mediterranean and asked if he could join her.
Last year, Wildmikael contacted a forensic anthropologist named Cristina Cattaneo, director of the Institute of Anthropology and Dentistry, through the Eritrean Diaspora Network (Labanov), at the State University of Milan. Cattaneo has spent most of his career identifying the bodies of people who have disappeared in Italy. Since 2013, she has also used forensic tools (antemortem photographs, dental overlays, body markings, personal effects, DNA samples) to help identify the bodies of missing immigrants. Cattaneo was shocked when she first heard from Wildmikael that it had been years since Biniam had gone missing. “You feel that the system has failed so badly,” she told me. However, there are European relatives of disaster victims who complain.It is even more outrageous that people have to wait ten years.” She immediately took on the case. “It’s about respecting the human right to identify the dead,” she said.
Over the past decade, the Mediterranean and the coasts of Italy, Malta, Cyprus and Greece have become vast cemeteries. As a result of conflict, oppression, economic conditions, famine and drought, since 2014 more than two million people have tried to cross the Mediterranean to Europe, mostly from sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East. At least 25,000 people are estimated to have disappeared and died at the intersection. Most of these bodies remain on the seabed. Some were washed ashore and buried in unmarked graves. 2000 in Italy alone. Relatives of missing people are often left with nothing but a social media post from their loved one and an unfinished text message of him. “What about my family? No one can provide answers,” said José Pablo Baribal, forensic coordinator for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Paris.
The International Commission on Missing Persons was started in 1996 by President Bill Clinton after the conflict in the Balkans. 40,000 people went missing. The ICMP helped countries arrange the excavation of mass graves and the extraction of DNA from human remains. 70% of the bodies were eventually identified. After the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami, the organization helped affected countries extract DNA samples to build extensive databases of missing persons. This has led to the identification of tens of thousands of people. “Finding missing persons and investigating disappearances is the responsibility of the state, regardless of whether the person is a citizen or non-citizen, regardless of nationality, ethnic or racial background.” Kathryn Bomberger, the commission’s executive director, told me. “Clearly there is a double standard.”
The ICMP today pursues similar efforts to locate and identify the bodies of deceased migrants and investigate their disappearances. In 2017, Italian parliamentarians proposed a motion to fund migrant identification, but it did not reach a vote. We have agreed to share, but so far no country has submitted relevant data. Instead, the European Union has invested heavily in efforts to stop migration, even at the risk of migrant deaths. In 2018, we equipped and trained the Libyan Coast Guard to stop migrants heading to Europe. Sometimes the Coast Guard sank the boat in the process. Captured migrants were taken to Libyan prisons, where they were tortured, blackmailed and sold into forced labor. The EU has discouraged humanitarian organizations from rescuing migrants from sunken ships. Italy has repeatedly blocked ships carrying migrants from landing in its waters.
An unrecorded death has legal implications. Those who cannot prove that their spouse has died find it difficult to remarry. Relatives of missing immigrants face difficulties in filing civil lawsuits and participating in criminal proceedings against smugglers accused of overloading boats and sending defective vessels out to sea. doing. When the government is at fault, it is difficult for families to hold the government accountable. In late June, about 2,000 migrants and refugees from Sudan and other African countries attempted to scale the border fence between the Spanish enclaves of Morocco and Melilla. Dozens were injured in the massacre, and Moroccan security forces severely beat and shot migrants with rubber bullets. On the other side of the fence, Spanish guards threw tear gas at them. At least 23 people were reported dead and 77 missing. A few days later, the Moroccan Human Rights Association posted a photo of the freshly dug grave on Twitter, saying the government planned to bury the deceased without identifying him, warning his family, or investigating the cause of death. (Spain’s Interior Ministry said its own security forces and Morocco’s security forces “acted in a proportionate and moderate manner.”)