Project Detail: Migrant bodies


Reportage and Documentary 2020




Max Hirzel



Project Info

Migrant bodies

It's a long term reportage – started in Italy, ended in Senegal - on the management of the bodies of migrant people died in the Mediterranean sea, recovered by Italian Authorities: burials, identification work, mourning of missing people families. These bodies, as quantity and age of the victims, represent an anomaly that can be mistaken for fatality. I wanted to show this anomaly. But also to make a small gesture of attention, for each of them. I began from the cemeteries, I wanted to know where and how they are buried, how many got a name or what instead of, failing that. The burials are scattered throughout Sicily, one corpse, one person, often a number instead of the name. So I started to focus on the identification: in one side of the Mediterranean sea there are people working for returning a name to a body. In the other one the missing families that without that body cannot celebrate the mourning. So this has become the story of all of them.

I followed different and parallel stories and persons, among which that of April 18, 2015 shipwreck, the widest. More than 700 dead, 28 survivors. The Italian Government makes an unprecedented choice: one year after the shipwreck the so-called "boat of the innocents" is recovered from the bottom of the sea and led to the Nato base of Melilli, with 450 bodies still in the hold. An unprecedented work begins, 450 bodies and their effects are examined from June to November, in two tents equipped in the hangar of the Nato base. All the post mortem data are transferred to a database in Labanof, the Milan University Anthropology lab that coordinate the operations. Young autopsy technicians examining same age people corpses, and mortuary operators assembling too many coffins to deposit too many bodies. The anomaly was there.
At that moment in Italy many people was saying, “why we spend this money? anyway nobody is looking for the victims”. So I went in Senegal: in the delta of Saloum, Mamadou's brothers ignore all this. According to the story of a friend survivor, Mamadou is a presumed victims of 18th April shipwreck, but there's not any evidence, till now. "They face an impossible mourning", explains Miriam Orteiza, International Red Cross psychologist, "Here, people suffer in silence. They need to have evidence to accept death, to be able to process mourning, they must have a body".