Refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants have traveled from Africa and the Middle East in pursuit of the relatively safer harbors of Europe for decades. Unbearably large numbers of them fail to survive that journey. We now have the best estimate to date of just how many have died in the past 24 years: 33,293, including 5,079 who lost their lives in 2016.
Even this number is incomplete, of course, in part because it continues to grow: Nearly 3,000 have perished this year alone. The 33,293 is the tally of those lost trying to reach Europe between 1993 and May 2017, but deaths have continued to mount.
The German daily newspaper Der Tagesspiegel published the number — as well as the details of every death — last week as part of a special insert to the paper. A hundred thousand copies were printed; it was also published as a PDF. They called it the List.
As much as possible, the reporters included information like name, country of origin, date of death, and age. Terribly often those details were impossible to find, especially in cases of mass drownings where the numbers lost stretched into the hundreds.
Sometimes the details are brutal to absorb, like the story of 36-year-old Iraqi migrant Talat Abdulhamid, who died of extreme cold after two days of walking from Turkey to Bulgaria.
The List was compiled by painstaking effort: Researchers pored through reports compiled by the International Organization on Migration, newspaper stories, human rights group documentation, and missives issued by the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees. The newspaper set out, the editors said, to document how Europe’s border policies had contributed to this enormous loss of life.
It can be difficult to wrap our minds around a number as big as the one compiled by Der Tagesspiegel. It’s why we gravitate towards individual narratives — like the heartbreaking story of 3-year-old Aylan Kurdi, who washed up on a Turkish shore in 2015. His lifeless body became a symbol of destroyed hope and the terrible consequences of the ongoing refugee crisis.
What Der Tagesspiegel is trying to do is make us see the true scope of the horror. The breadth of the problem is best seen visually. The List is 48 pages when printed.
– Marisa Bartolomeu, 22.
– Oumar D. Balde, 17.
– 4 children; 11 women; 7 men; unknown.
German newspaper @tagesspiegel has published a list of 33,293 people who died trying to reach Europe. The work is compiled by Turkish artist Banu Cennetoğlu. pic.twitter.com/FeeouCAvBC
— Naomi O’Leary (@NaomiOhReally) November 10, 2017
The List was published on a double anniversary
Der Tagesspiegel published the list on November 9, a day doubly resonant for Germans. It’s the day the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, and the 79th anniversary of Kristallnacht, a night of vicious anti-Jewish violence in 1938 that foreshadowed the Holocaust. The parallel was not by accident.
Nevertheless, the day following the publication, reporter Andrea Dernbach noted how terribly incomplete this list remains. “Not included in this count are those who die en route to the Mediterranean coast,” she wrote. “How many perish on the way through the desert, get caught in the shadows in Iraq and Libya, or die from ill-treatment does not, or only exceptionally, come to light when their families report missing.”
“We want to honor them,” Der Tagesspiegel’s editors explained in an introduction to The List, “And at the same time we want to show that every line tells a story … and that the list keeps getting longer, day by day.”
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