Death at Europe's border: burial practices and mourning across the Mediterranean Sea

By Valentina Zagaria
Submitted to Session P4856 (Mediterranean Crossings and Tunisian Settlements, 1860-2017, 2017 Annual Meeting
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The European Union's border has in recent history developed into an extensive zone that encompasses seas and lands beyond what is commonly regarded as Europe's geographical perimeter. Both the Italian island of Lampedusa and the Tunisian coastal town of Zarzis exist within its borderland. The fact that the Strait of Sicily is a maritime frontier means that the residents of its shores are directly involved in border practices, and have to confront the presence of those who die trying to cross it. This paper will explore how the inhabitants of these two locales conceive of themselves and of the state as a result of the deaths of people on the move. By focusing on local lived experiences, I hope to attain a deeper understanding of the consequences of European migration policies, laws, and state discourses. In Lampedusa and Zarzis respectively, how is death understood? How do individuals, communities and states decide on who and how to bury, and who and how to mourn? What affective resonances do the graves of unknown migrants transmit? How do the presences and absences of unknown persons and loved ones affect people's understandings of the state and of themselves as political actors? What moral discourses are invoked and challenged as a result? In sum, how and why do people in Lampedusa and Zarzis mobilise around the issue of border deaths?