Mediterranean shipwrecks: the horror that never makes it to the screen

Publié: 31 mai 2016 21:10 CET

By Alessia Lai, Italian Red Cross

The raw data on migrant arrivals on the shores of southern Italy only tell a small part of a vast story. We know how many people land, and we know where they are from. We also know that many will not make it this far. We have seen the images of the boat that lists, capsizes and dumps its human cargo into the cold water.

Most of the time, there is no camera to capture these human tragedies, and we cannot help but think of the countless other boats crowded with people sinking without witness. People who, according to our statistics, simply never existed. Never arrived to be counted.

Those who arrive may tell us their stories, but thousands of stories go untold.

As volunteers, our stories include witnessing the frightened eyes, the salt-covered skin of those who walk off the boat that brought them to safety. But how can we take those watching the news onto the dock Italy, to show more than the ranks of black plastic bags and the smell of death?

The foredeck of ship Vega – which arrived last Sunday in Reggio Calabria – was an open-air morgue carrying the bodies of men, women and children respectfully recovered after a shipwreck in the Strait of Sicily. The Italian Red Cross was there; volunteers and staff working alongside the Department of Public Health. We witnessed the operations with a lump in the throat: the mortician who makes the sign of the cross before collecting what the sea has returned; the crane delicately removing the bodies one-by-one, the migrants on the dock who look away, not wanting to be reminded of the dangers they faced, and survived.

This article was planned a few days ago, before the latest landing in Reggio Calabria, southern Italy, and was supposed to tell stories of migration; because every person who arrives brings experiences, sorrows, joys and expectations, and showing these stories may help foster tolerance and respect for those fleeing violence or persecution. A young Nigerian woman who fled from her country with three young children after her husband was killed. The disfigured face of a Ghanaian man detained for two years in Libya, who lost his vision in one eye due to the beatings.

Instead it is the absence that weighs. It is those who never make it to Italy who are heavy on our conscience. A Syrian family fleeing war: they were five, but only four arrived in Porto Empedocle. Two parents with no tears left to cry and the stunned eyes of two remaining brothers. A group of 19 Sudanese children who left together and were halved in the shipwreck. It is in the distant gaze of the husband of a woman who never reached Reggio Calabria, in the silence of all those who lost their loved ones and do not even have a body to bury.

The Mediterranean Sea should be a bridge. Instead it swallows lives. Who allows all this to happen, delegating responsibility, looking away and staying silent? Maybe they need to come here, on the docks of southern Italy, to hear the silence of those who wait for the bodies of their loved ones. Maybe they need to witness the end of so many futures.