Another tragedy off Zarzis: in search for truth and justice

First published on October 20, 2022

The Mediterranean returns the bodies of the victims of another shipwreck that occurred in mid-September off Zarzis in southern Tunisia. The families of the drowned and citizens of Zarzis fight for human rights and a binding commitment from authorities to recover the other bodies lost at sea – they demand dignity and justice.

On September 21, two women with a one-year-old girl and a two-month-old infant as well as 15 other people (of whom the oldest was just over 25 years old) departed from the coast of Zarzis towards Europe aboard a boat. Two days after their departure, receiving no signs of life, the families alerted Tunisian, Italian, and Maltese authorities along with civil search and rescue vessels. Faced with the mere passivity of national authorities regarding the urgent demands to find their missing relatives, the local Fishermen’s Association carried out four search and rescue operations autonomously.

On October 2, the shipwreck was confirmed as the body of a woman, Malek, was found on a beach in Djerba. Photos of other people whose bodies were cast up on the Tunisian coast, began to spread. Bodies that, only shortly after, were buried in the Zarzis cemetery without prior DNA testing. On October 12, one family’s suspicion that they had recognized their loved one, Aymen, from the clothes he was wearing at the time he left, was confirmed by DNA testing conducted after the body was exhumed.

To date, seven bodies have been identified. However, for the families, the confirmation of the shipwreck is by no means their final step in this tragedy, nor does it equate to salvation from their despair. It is utterly important to identify the bodies through DNA testing right after they wash ashore so that families can ensure a dignified burial for their loved ones.

For several days, the city of Zarzis had been the scene of protests by families, students, and social associations. They demand the truth about the disappearance of their fellow citizens and condemn the practice of the authorities – which has been taking place for decades and not only in Tunisia – to bury bodies found at sea without prior DNA testing. In our view, however, the mobilizations of anger and protest are evidence of a much broader denunciation of the increasingly harsh policies of externalization. By criminalizing Mediterranean rescue routes, the crossings become even more dangerous and life-threatening.

This tragedy took the lives of 18 people and is not an isolated case. In this racialized geography of contemporary Europe, more and more people lose their lives. In 2022 alone, at least 544 people went missing off the coast of Tunisia. Recently, more bodies were recovered from the Mediterranean following the Teboulba shipwreck in the province of Monastir. These tragedies shed light on the racist and securitarian matrix of border control and the visa regime and expose the disregard for human life.

Shocked by another tragedy that affects each of us, the signing organizations:

  • Express unconditional solidarity with all the families, comrades, friends, and communities torn apart by pain and grief who should be treated with dignity
  • Once again, thank the fishermen for their solidarity and commitment to search and rescue at sea
  • Condemn the opacity and passivity of the Tunisian authorities who failed to intervene and bring assistance to those in distress through search and rescue operations. They demand a judicial investigation to establish the truth
  • Recall that the right to mobility and free movement is an integral part of human rights. They emphasize that the countless dramas related to irregular migration are a direct consequence of the lack of regular channels to EU member states


This appeal has been signed by:

  1. A Buon Diritto ONLUS
  2. ActionAid Italia
  3. Association BEITY
  4. Association Citoyenneté et Libertés
  5. Association d’Aides et Assistances aux Migrants
  6. Association des Juristes de Sfax
  7. Association des Tunisiens en France
  8. Association des Volontaires de Bouarada
  9. Association Enfants de la lune de Médenine
  10. Association Esmâani
  11. Association Humanitaires de Médenine
  12. Association Ifriqiya
  13. Association Intersection pour les droits et les libertés
  14. Association la Voix de l’Enfant Rural
  15. Association MADA pour la citoyenneté et le développement
  16. Association Petit Théâtre
  17. Association pour le Développement Durable et la Coopération Internationale de Zarzis
  18. Association pour le Leadership et le Développement en Afrique
  19. Association Tunisienne de défense des libertés individuelles
  20. Association Tunisienne de l’Action Culturelle
  21. Association Tunisienne de Soutien des Minorités
  22. Associazione per gli Studi Giuridici sull’Immigrazione
  23. Aswat Nissa
  24. Avocats Sans Frontières Tunisie
  25. Borderline Sicilia ONLUS
  26. Carovane Migranti – Italia
  27. Clinica legale per i diritti umani dell’Università di Palermo
  28. Coalition Tunisienne contre la Peine de mort
  29. Coalition Tunisienne pour la Dignité et la Réhabilitation
  30. Comité pour le Respect des Libertés et de Droits de l’homme en Tunisie
  31. EuroMed Rights
  32. Groupe Tawhida Ben Cheikh
  33. Institut Tunisien pour la réhabilitation – Nebras
  34. International Alert
  35. Ligue tunisienne pour la défense des Droits de l’Homme
  36. Mai più Lager – No ai CPR
  37. Mediterranea Saving Humans
  38. Med – Mémoire Méditerranée
  39. Mountada Ettajdid, Tunis
  40. Ongi Etorri Errefuxiatuak – Espagne, Pais Vasco
  41. Organisation Contre la Torture en Tunisie
  42. Organisation Mondiale Contre la Torture
  43. Psychologues du Monde-Tunisie
  44. Réseau Migreurop
  45. Réseau Tunisien pour la Justice Transitionnelle
  46. Rete Antirazzista Catanese
  47. Tunisia Tomorrow
  48. Un Ponte Per
  49. Union des Diplômés Chômeurs
  50. Watch The Med – Alarm Phone


Translated from Italian by Marah Frech