Former Concentration Camp to become Migrants’ Cemetery
Azzurra Meringolo 14 September 2015

“It will be a place where the relatives of these victims will be able to mourn their loved ones,” says Franco Corbelli, leader of the ‘Civil Rights’ movement and the promotor of this initiative. He met us after learning that the battle started the day after the October 3rd, 2013 massacre off Lampedusa now appears to have reached a turning point. The governor of Calabria, Mario Oliviero, had approved his project and is committed to activating the bureaucratic procedures required for building this cemetery and will also request government funds. “And why not also the European Union, seeing that the cemetery will be an international one and not only host those who died in the Mediterranean. The migration issue is a subject the whole of Europe cares about,” added Corbelli.

The news of the governor’s approval came just as the Old Continent is, with difficulty and hastily, attempting to address the issues of migrants, while its Mediterranean and European borders are experiencing continuous tragedies. The project for a cemetery for migrants took shape just a few hours after Chancellor Angela Merkel decided to throw open Germany’s gates to all Syrian  refugees. It was a decision made disregarding the Dublin Regulation which establishes that all migrants should remain in the country they first arrive in and challenging the neo-Nazis who last week set fire to a gym in Nauen organised as a welcome centre for immigrants. Just as Hungary is building a wall on its border with Serbia to prevent migrants who have entrusted their hopes to the Balkan route (Turkey, Greece and countries that were part of former Yugoslavia). All this while in Italy a Municipal Council Member in Bolzano proposed a tax on all those wanting to welcome immigrants.

“These are events that indicate how the greatest attention is now being paid to the immigration issue. Perhaps that is why the project seemed important also to the authorities. We had not received support from government institutions until now. The authorities we had contacted showed no interest. My appeals to the Interior, Health and Foreign Ministries (led at the time by Federica Mogherini, editor’s note) went unanswered. The only exception was the Speaker of the House, Laura Boldrini, who supported the idea from the beginning,” observed Corbelli, well-aware that there would be no great support from the local population, frightened by what the Italian media continues to call the ‘immigration emergency.’

It is a phenomenon that seems unstoppable and that has led Corbelli to change some of the logistic aspects of his plan. Before identifying, together with the Mayor of Tarsia, Roberto Ameruso, an area measuring about ten hectares of municipal land bordering Ferramonti, the Civil Rights leader had thought of building the cemetery on a hillside he had inherited from his mother. “But the news tells us that this tragedy is never-ending, so I thought we needed a much larger piece of land. So I immediately thought of Ferramonti. It is certainly a place that reminds us of a dark page in our history, but it is also well-known that humanity was respected in this camp that housed Jews coming from Czechoslovakia, Austria, Libya, Greece, Albania and Italy. It will therefore be a place with a powerful meaning. The ideal place for hosting a cemetery such as the one we are planning.”

Next to the historical location where seventy years ago the victims of Fascism were crammed into 46 huts, the plan is to host those Enrico Calamai, Italian Consul to Argentina during Operation Condor, calls the new desaparecidos. They are the dreamers, some extremely young, who loaded onto makeshift boats or who drowned in the Mediterranean, who are increasingly reduced to numbers, deprived of their own stories and identities. This is why the project for the migrants cemetery conceals another ambitious objective, that of giving each one of those who died a name. Following the massacre in Lampedusa, the government has tried to create a register of all those who died, taking DNA samples.  “We should now perfect the process in order to guarantee a name for each body” explained Corbelli , who, in spite of not having put down on paper the details of his project, already knows how it might work. “The bodies should travel by sea along the Ionian coast to Corigliano. From there they can be driven to Tarsia in half an hour.” Once in this cemetery for this immense number of people from the most distant parts of the world, each should be buried according to the rules established by the God they appealed to before dying. So as to understand how to respect the beliefs of each victim we will contact the representatives of their communities here in Italy,” said Corbelli, who is visibly prepared to broaden his horizons to multiculturalism. For a man who for over thirty years has devoted most of his time to the weak, this is yet another challenge to provide support for those society labels as the last.

“We want to ensure that those who died on this route have the right to be remembered. Dignified burial is possible in many cemeteries, but with this one we will do everything possible to ensure these people are not forgotten,” added Corbelli. There is more. When this cemetery is operational it will end the torment of the relatives of the dead who are desperately seeking their loved ones in Sicilian cemeteries, embarking on more never-ending journeys of hope.

Azzurra  Meringolo

Translation by Francesca Simmons



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