Mourning all that is human, once again, drowned in the sea, once again

“one cannot speak of generations of skulls or spirits except on the condition of language – and the voice, in any case of that which marks the name or takes its place (“Hamlet: That Scull had a tongue in it, and could sing once”).
Jacques Derrida. Specters of Marx

Once again, the year ends with the surface of the Mediterranean concealing thousands of humans lost. According to the International Organization of Migration, 1246 people – women, children, men – drowned in the Mediterranean while trying flee certain death. In certain circles, this number, 1246, is being celebrated as a mark of success. The numbers of dead have declined. Fortress Europe, like Fortress Australia and Fortress USA, is working. This is the mathematics of success in our contemporary world. 2019: 1246 dead: “the fifth straight year of at least 1,000 deaths on the Mediterranean”. 2018: 2299 dead. 2017: 3139 dead. 2016: 5143 dead. 2015: 4054 dead. 2014: 3283 dead.  From 2014 to today, 19,164 souls – women, children, men – thrown into the deep waters of unmourning. No language, no marking of names, no taking of place. No singing. Only the silence of “success”.

According to UNITED, United Against Refugee Deaths, “In the period 1993-2019 more than 36,570 deaths can be put down to border militarisation, asylum laws, detention policies and deportations. Most probably thousands more are never found.” UNITED compiles a list of documented deaths of refugees. The overwhelming majority of the deceased are identified as “N.N.”, “Nomen Nescio: I don’t know the name”. This is success today. Tens of thousands dead; tens of thousands rendered nameless. Tens of thousands languishing, tortured, in confinement in north Africa, especially in Libya

In 2016, the deadliest year ever for migrants trying to reach Europe, the year’s epitaph was simple: “2016: The year the world stopped caring about refugees”. This year, the epitaph is equally simple: “2019: The year refugees were urged to return”. Refugees and asylum seekers were “urged” at the end of a gun, in the festering conditions of camps, by policies of hostility, by enforced freezing, starvation, and other forms of violence. In today’s world, these forms of violence are called urging, invitation.

We have turned the sea into a graveyard. It’s December 31, 2019, and the Person of the Decade is a woman, child, man lying on the bottom of the Mediterranean; we do not know their names, and we do not much care. If we did, they would be alive today.

To “honor” the decade, here is a poem for the refugees who lie in the cemetery that we have made of the Mediterranean and for those who continue to seek shelter, haven, community, work, humanity. See you next year.

Mourning
By Carolyn Forché 

A peacock on an olive branch looks beyond
the grove to the road, beyond the road to the sea,
blank-lit, where a sailboat anchors to a cove.
As it is morning, below deck a man is pouring water into a cup,
listening to the radio-talk of the ships: barges dead
in the calms awaiting port call, pleasure boats whose lights
hours ago went out, fishermen setting their nets for mullet,
as summer tavernas hang octopus to dry on their lines,
whisper smoke into wood ovens, sweep the terraces
clear of night, putting the music out with morning
light, and for the breath of an hour it is possible
to consider the waters of this sea wine-dark, to remember
that there was no word for blue among the ancients,
but there was the whirring sound before the oars
of the great triremes sang out of the seam of world,
through pine-sieved winds silvered by salt flats until
they were light enough to pass for breath from the heavens,
troubled enough to fell ships and darken thought — 
then as now the clouds pass, roosters sleep in their huts,
the sea flattens under glass air, but there is nothing to hold us there:
not the quiet of marble nor the luff of sail, fields of thyme,
a vineyard at harvest, and the sea filled with the bones of those
in flight from wars east and south, our wars, their remains
scavenged on the seafloor and in its caves, belongings now
a flotsam washed to the rocks. Stand here and look
into the distant haze, there where the holy mountain
with its thousand monks wraps itself in shawls of rain,
then look to the west, where the rubber boats tipped
into the tough waves. Rest your eyes there, remembering the words
of Anacreon, himself a refugee of war, who appears
in the writings of Herodotus:
I love and do not love, I am mad and I am not mad.
Like you he thought himself not better,
nor worse than anyone else.

(Photo Credit: Electronic Intifada /Oren Ziv/Active Stills)

About Dan Moshenberg

Dan Moshenberg is an organizer educator who has worked with various social movements in the United States and South Africa. Find him on Twitter at @danwibg.