2023-12-08

EUROPE - A cross-border team of 8 journalists confirmed 1,015 unmarked graves of migrants in 65 cemeteries buried over the last 10 years across Spain, Italy, Greece, Malta, Poland, Lithuania, France, and Croatia.

The journalists were able to have visited over 500 graves in which people who died deprived of dignity now lie without names. 

Unidentified migrants rest in cemeteries in olive groves, on hilltops, in dense forests, and along remote highways. Each unmarked grave represents a person who lost their life en route to Europe, and a fate that will remain forever unknown to their loved ones. 

In 2021, the European Parliament passed a resolution recognising the need for a “coordinated European approach” for “prompt and effective identification processes” for bodies found on EU borders. Yet the Council of Europe calls it a “legislative void.”

These failures mean that the responsibility of memorialising unidentified victims often ends up falling to individual municipalities, cemetery keepers and even good-willed residents, with many victims being buried without an attempt at identification.

The team conducted over 60 interviews in six languages. We spoke with families of the missing and deceased, whose loved ones left for Europe from Syria, Afghanistan, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Iraqi Kurdistan, Algeria, and Sri Lanka. They spoke about the institutional and bureaucratic hurdles of searching for, and if found, burying a body. One mother compared the unresolved grief to an “open wound,” and an uncle said it was like “dying every day.”

In order to understand the complex legal, medical, and political landscape of death in each country, we spoke with coroners, grave keepers, forensic doctors, international and local humanitarian groups, government officials, a European MEP, and the Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner. 

This in-depth investigation reveals that the European Union is violating migrants’ last rights.

Photo credit: Siće graves in Croatia, Tina Xu

AWARDS

This project received the the Special award for excellent journalism which defies categories and disciplines during the European Press Prize 2024 ceremony in Prague.

 

Team members

Gabriele Cruciata

Gabriele Cruciata is an award-winning journalist based in Rome.

Gabriele Cruciata

Danai Maragoudaki

Danai Maragoudaki is a Greek journalist based in Athens.

Danai Maragoudaki

Barbara Matejcic

Barbara Matejcic is a Croatian award-winning journalist, non-fiction writer and audio producer.

Barbara Matejcic

Tina Xu

Tina Xu is a multimedia journalist and filmmaker based in Berlin.

Tina Xu

Daphne Tolis

Daphne Tolis is producer/documentary filmmaker and multimedia journalist based in Athens.

Daphne Tolis

Leah Pattem

Leah Pattem is British/Indian independent journalist in Madrid.

Leah Pattem

Eoghan Gilmartin

Eoghan Gilmartin is a Spain-based freelance journalist specializing in news, politics and migration.

Eoghan Gilmartin

Gabriela Ramirez

Gabriela Ramirez is an award-winning multimedia journalist.

Gabriela Ramirez
Supported
€10,000 allocated on 21/09/2023
ID
ECB/2023/824

ONLINE

PRINT

  • Monsieur X: More than 1000 unmarked graves discovered along EU migration routes, The Guardian, 09/12/2023<
  • La fossa comune dei migranti morti in mare, L’Espresso, 12/12/2023, (Italian)
  • Wo ist Mohammed Sabah?, Süddeutsche Zeitung, 08/12/2023 (German)

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