The European Graveyard

Trigger Warning: Suicide, slavery, war, sexual violence, gender-based violence, European colonialism

For over 500 years, Europe has been entombing the evidence of its terrorism in graveyards on the other side of the Atlantic/Pacific/Mediterranean. Most Europeans have never spared a thought to, let alone commemorated, the peoples whose destruction they have caused. Historically, the general populous didn’t actively ruin non-white societies. Instead, they, we, have been sitting comfortably at home reaping the benefits of slavery-based capitalism that improves the living standards of the wider European public and its settler colonies. Nowadays, the majority of us common people have a vote and can therefore actively influence our (foreign) policies. Regardless, the killing continues. 

After centuries of fruitful plunder and genocide, non-Europeans globally are left with no other choice but to relocate to where we are all told life is best: the ‘west’. That imaginary part of the world where democracy and freedom thrive, enlightenment upholds equality, and everybody has the chance to better their lives in dignity. After boasting about the European miracle for centuries (whether it’d be west or north or east), this is where the rest of the world wants to come to and flourish in. 

However, humans like to brag, not share. Meaning: westerners graciously let the world partake in their ‘ideals’, but they won’t let anybody join them on their holy land. Land is power. This is why Europeans conquest-ed to the Americas, Africa and Asia to grab everything they can, endlessly exploiting non-European life to preserve white livelihood. In this system, it is women and girls who suffer the most. In transit, they are most endangered when crossing borders and settling in inhumane conditions. The following sections map the ever-growing European Graveyard and give examples of how Europeans actively maintain this lethal status-quo by any means necessary. In 2019, the Graveyard extends from Africa across the Mediterranean into the continent itself. 

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First set of tombstones: Mali, where western powers are spending 1 billion dollars on the deadliest UN peacekeeping mission (MINUSMA) in history. They are said to be stabilising Mali and reconciling Malians whilst saving the world from terrorist organisations. Simultaneously, the French, the Dutch and the Germans have their own missions protecting European interests in Africa from ‘terrorists and migrants’. Patrolling the borders of the EU starts in the Sahel. Supply for oil, gas or uranium comes from the Sahel. 

If we take a closer look, the reasons for ‘terrorists’* and drug/human traffickers ‘endangering’ this vast area can be traced back to imperialist meddling in Africa. When splitting up the continent in order to effectively exploit its resources, European colonialists plant-ed hate through intentional destabilisation and divide-and-rule tactics. Results of this are the disasters we witness (or ignore) in form of local warfare, slave trade, and organisations that hate the ‘west’. Rather than interrogating the self-inflicted roots of these dangerous conditions brewing in Africa, Europe prefers to strengthen its military presence and fight force with more force at the cost of civilian lives. This particular part of the Graveyard is made up of people from all over West and Central Africa.

*‘Terrorism’ = a political designation for non-state actors doing what states do all the time

Travelling east, we find another deadly European initiative against “migration and radicalisation”: the 2015 EU Horn of Africa Regional Action Plan. In Sudan, it supported an oppressive dictatorship that flourished for over 30 years while and murdered its citizens. The EU aided this regime in their building of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) which they branded as Sudan’s primary ‘border force’. In reality, the RSF is the same militia (previously known as the Janjaweed) that has been committing the genocide in Darfur as well as war crimes in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile State. Nonetheless, “the EU […] assists the RSF […] with the construction of two camps with detention facilities for migrants. The EU […] also equips these Sudanese border forces with cameras, scanners, and electronic servers for registering refugees.” This technology is not only used to “register” (i.e. ruthlessly mistreat) migrants, but primarily to oppress the population. The EU is funding this with over 100 million euros even though Sudan has continuously violated EU foreign policy standards and governance principles. Instead of stemming migration flows, border guards usually collude with human traffickers and use the money elsewhere. In the case of the Sudan Uprising, the blood of murdered protesters is on the EU’s hands: it is European money that helped to deny the protesters their rights to freedom and change. The Sudanese part of the Graveyard is made up of people from Central Africa and the Horn. It is only one of many examples where European governments support African dictatorships and then refuse to understand why people are forced to leave their countries. 

The situations in Mali and Sudan culminate in the hell that is Libya. There, some humans are sold into slavery and some go on ships in an attempt to reach the self-proclaimed paradise on the other side. Ever since the forced change of government in 2011, opposing armed militias have been fighting to gain control over the country. Meanwhile, migrants cross the porous borders from all sides and are detained, sometimes for years. The Guardian reports of “physical and sexual violence, forced labour, recruitment by militias, detainees being left without food, water and medical care, and allegations that refugees and migrants are being used as ‘human shields’ in the [most recent] conflict.Air strikes hit detention centres and kill migrants stuck in the war zone. The Graveyard on Libyan ground is filling up with Africans from West, Central, North and East Africa. Children are born and killed in these conditions, young men burn themselves in desperation while they witness their sisters and mothers being raped next to them. 

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Meanwhile across the sea, the EU has spent 338 million euros on projects in Libya since 2014. Europe trains, finances and arms Libyan ‘coast-guards’ to obstruct NGOs assisting migrant ships in the Mediterranean. Returning migrants to Libya is illegal, because it exposes them to rape, torture and slavery. Yet coast-guards stop boats at sea and forcibly take people to Libyan detention centres, jailing them in a country with a collapsing economy that can hardly feed them. This system is implemented by the EU in collaboration with the UN agencies UNHCR and IOM (International Organisation for Migration). While the UN is supposedly impartial and humanitarian, it works alongside EU politicians to support an agenda that specifically follows EU objectives and kills Africans as collateral damage.

In order to keep migrants off European land, Italy, particularly, is working overtime demobilising NGOs to stop them from “bEinG a tAxi sErvIce” (Mattheo Salvini). Only a few weeks ago, Europe saw its largest single murder case in the Mediterranean this year: 150 migrants drowned in a shipwreck off the coast of Libya. This could have been prevented had there been more rescue ships patrolling the waters. However, as we saw in the case of Carola Rackete, help is not only hindered, but even punished. After spending two weeks in a “cramped rubber dinghy” consisting of 52 migrants and a rescue team, the captain decided “that the health of those on board was at risk”. The closest option was the Italian island of Lampedusa where Italian anti-immigration laws were to try block yet another incoming boat.  

Right-wing populist politics flourish in Salvini’s Italy. Therefore, the basic human claim in defence of those on Rackete’s ship was not strong enough to convince the Italian government. Only 13 people on board the Sea-Watch 3 were taken in for medical treatments in the span of two weeks whilst another 40 would remain on board until the end, along with the ship’s 22 crew members, in worsening conditions in a heatwave”. Thus, when Rackete made the decision to drive the ship to the port of Lampedusa on 29th June, she was merely looking out for the health and safety of humans. Instead, Salvini branded her move as an “act of war and she was trailed. The Italian government has gone on to criminalise boat captains driving rescue boats with migrants on board and to confiscate their vessels, charging them up to 1 million euros. The EU claims that their policies in the Mediterranean are “saving lives”. Rather, they work against those who are out at sea attempting to stop the constant dying. Meanwhile, The EU is avoiding taking legal responsibility by outsourcing migration control. As a result, Europe has become a fortress on the shores of a turquoise mass grave that swallows up black and brown bodies before they can enter and endanger the rich world.

“While Mediterranean departures have decreased since mid-2017, the chances of dying in waters off the coast of Libya significantly increased from 1 in 42 in 2017 to 1 in 18 in 2018, according to UNHCR.” – Human Rights Watch 

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In the Greek islands, primarily Lesvos island, “asylum seekers are trapped by an EU-backed policy that prevents them from travelling to the mainland where services are better”. Asylum seekers arriving through Turkey come in the hopes of finding security and the values they were promised, only to enter a limbo of more inhumane treatment. There are over 16,500 asylum seekers on the Greek islands. Many are forced to live outside the overcrowded, suffocating camps, residing instead in nearby forest regions. Those most afflicted are children, many of whom are unaccompanied. Instead of receiving protected status to shelter them from traffickers and other dangers along the journey, they are being documented as adults. Very vulnerable groups also include pregnant women and people with disabilities who do not have access to essential necessities and facilities that are often determining factors on matters of life and death.

Evictions are everyday practices. European governments and institutions publicise the term ‘asylum’ (the political term) but this word rings hollow when it is accompanied by the bulldozing of that very same ‘asylum’ (the term meaning home). In March, more than 1500 people were ousted from San Ferdinando refugee camp in Italy. The unproportionate effect on women becomes once again clear: “the camp was home to at least 200 women, many of them victims of sex trafficking”. We have seen this before when the British and French governments evicted Calais refugee camp. The detention procedure in the UK is no better. Being the only state in Europe where immigration detention is practised with no limit, the UK’s hostile environment cultivates the Graveyard particularly with women who are fleeing extreme gender-based violence trauma. In the detention centres, they are denied basic hygiene and dignity as male guards monitor their every action (including showering and dressing). This is not a metaphorical death, it literally drives many to suicide attempts.

Turkey is collaborating with the EU to keep migrants, especially Africans, out of Europe. In her book ‘Hurry up, Hurry up’, head of Koç University’s Migration Research Centre, Doğuş Şimşek, reveals the undiscussed discrimination that African migrants face. ‘Hurry up’ refers to workplaces in the textile industry where African migrants only eat the leftovers of what the Turkish workers leave behind. Once again, being a woman renders you amongst the most vulnerable: a woman from Uganda reported on how she was sexually harassed by her employer, because “many Turks seemed to believe all African women are sex workers. The European Graveyard not only encompasses the actual murders that Europe commits daily, but also the psychological death it inflicts on asylum-seekers through its inhumane policies and terrible treatment of these people. 

Not all dead people are buried or hidden at the bottom of seas. They walk among us, carrying their trauma everywhere they go. Instead of showing compassion, we pretend that ‘they’ are the only ones caught up in this nightmare. Knowing about the horrors taking place everywhere and ignoring them begs the question: Are we ourselves still alive? Or are we all dead inside by now, inhabiting the European Graveyard – some in more comfortable conditions than others? 

Words by Amuna Wagner and Valia Katsi

Illustrations by Molly Ann Pendlebury (@mollyannpendlebury)

Molly Ann Pendlebury is a British illustrator, sound and moving image maker based in London. Her work draws from daily observations of people and characters, topical issues relating to societal norms and expectations, politics and sexuality. Not circumscribing to a particular medium, she enjoys exploring outcomes in a variety of forms; from print and collage to video and sound.


References and extensive information in the form of articles, documentaries and podcasts for everyone who wants to start taking initiative by informing themselves: 

Aljazeera Documentary (2018): Italy: The Migrants and the Mafia: https://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/peopleandpower/2018/06/italy-mafia-migrants-180627143634282.html 

Aljazeera Documentary (2018): Rescue at sea: Migrants in the Mediterranean: https://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/peopleandpower/2018/11/rescue-sea-migrants-mediterranean-181114144641204.html

Aljazeera’s ‘The Take’ Podcast (2019): How bloodshed in Mali’s villages threatens the region: https://www.aljazeera.com/podcasts/thetake/2019/06/bloodshed-mali-villages-threatens-region-190628160739451.html

Aljazeera Inside Story (2019): What can be done about the refugees trapped in Libya’s fighting?: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RJ4JEMrkz1M 

Aljazeera Inside Story (2017): Who is to blame for African migrant’s slavery in Libya?: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bp6eTK0MmeE 

Baldo, Suliman (2017): Border Control from Hell. How the EU’s migration partnership legitimizes Sudan’s “militia state”:  https://data2.unhcr.org/fr/documents/download/55954?fbclid=IwAR0JmIyWnizrHBZnV1FnfGr1Ip4JCpyy64k1Ie6A7I7G4_-Buo-sbl-K5no

Cosse, Eva (2019): The Greek Islands’ Forgotten Emergency: https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/07/03/greek-islands-forgotten-emergency?fbclid=IwAR08jOZkVyFh4MQWuAO4xtCRRLTIyyXyb_9pyCFe7RsSsKryFWcfrgxXbtA

Council of the European Union (2015): Draft Council Conclusions on the EU Horn of Africa Regional Action Plan 2015-2020: https://www.statewatch.org/news/2015/oct/eu-council-draft-conclusions-horn-of-africa-13200-15.pdf

De Genova, N. (2017): The “migrant crisis” as racial crisis: do Black Lives Matter in Europe?. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 1-18.

Funari, Renata (2017): Shut Them Down: ‘Until you’re British, you are not yet somebody’:http://gal-dem.com/shutthemdown-youre-british-not-yet-somebody/

Hayden, Sally (2019): ‘I saw hell’: under fire inside Libya’s refugee detention centres https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2019/jul/10/under-fire-libya-refugee-detention-centres

Hassouri, Parastou (2019): What 2 new migration compacts tell us about how the world deals with the ‘migration crisis’: https://madamasr.com/en/2019/05/01/opinion/politics/what-2-new-migration-compacts-tell-us-about-how-the-world-deals-with-the-migration-crisis/ 

Hughes, Roland (2019): Carola Rackete: How a ship captain took on Italy’s Salvini: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-48853050 

Huffpost UK (2019): Calais: Life after ‘The Jungle’: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IzFi0SP8tdo 

Human Rights Watch (2019): No Escape From Hell, EU Policies Contribute to Abuse of Migrants in Libya: https://www.hrw.org/report/2019/01/21/no-escape-hell/eu-policies-contribute-abuse-migrants-libya 

Jawad, Rana (2019): Migrant crisis: Self-immolation exposes UN failures in Libya: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-49154959?fbclid=IwAR3WEbqwBIkZ48sPxl3yAvn21idnuaOEQtsgoSlmgyXy4LuSW9OTNdkXutU

Kulsoy, Ahmet (2019): Stuck in Istanbul, African migrants suffer mistreatment: https://ahvalnews.com/refugee-crisis/stuck-istanbul-african-migrants-suffer-mistreatment

Middle East Eye (2019): Dozens killed in airstrike on Libyan migrant detention centre: https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/dozens-killed-air-strike-libyan-migrant-detention-centre 

MINUSMA https://peacekeeping.un.org/en/mission/minusma

Momigliano, Anna (2019): About 150 Migrants Drown in Shipwreck Off Libya: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/25/world/middleeast/migrants-shipwreck-libya.html?fbclid=IwAR0fBrZF1JCmU9j9PLw_eC69puVzosK9MODBeJAgt7CI0ZiqDGw8Y9Vdlb0

Perrone, Alessio (2019): Refugee rescuers to be fined up to €1m under new Italian law promoted by far-right Salvini: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/italy-refugee-rescue-boat-fine-law-salvini-senate-vote-a9040936.html

Tondo, Lorenzo (2019): Salvini crackdown: bulldozers demolish Italian camp housing 1,500 refugees:https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2019/mar/06/salvini-crackdown-bulldozers-clear-italian-camp-housing-1500-refugees

Trilling, Daniel (2019): How the media contributed to the migrant crisis: https://www.theguardian.com/news/2019/aug/01/media-framed-migrant-crisis-disaster-reporting?fbclid=IwAR11vUFON7miYqXUDW2T2hHQtKP8Zga_6IUJ4xZGCS3jRn7AI-h1QE_zr7U

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