Geopolitics

Mediterranean Graveyard, The Nameless Dead Of Malta

On this southern European island, some of the hundreds of corpses have arrived from the latest migrant tragedy. They will be processed and buried without knowing their identity. It is not the first time.

Entrance to the Hal Far refugee camp in Malta
Entrance to the Hal Far refugee camp in Malta
Niccolò Zancan

VALLETTA — They're stacked in silver tubes. One on top of another. They are sealed in black plastic bags with marker-scribbled signs hung at their feet: Unknown Number 7, Unknown Number 10. Here, we can count 24 nameless corpses, all unknown and unidentified.

"They are all adult males, except one teenager," says Dr. David Grima.

They were on deck and died at sea, in the open wind, unlike those who were trapped below deck. We don't know their names, but in reality we know them very well. We have already seen them, followed them, listened to them, admired them for a strength that we don't have.

And we know how this would-be passage to Europe ends, here on the continent's extreme southern stretch, at the Mater Dei hospital's morgue on the island nation of Malta. Authorities now say as many as 800 people were killed in the sinking of the boat over the weekend, the worst maritime disaster in Europe since World War II.

Mater Dei (Mother of God) is the main hospital on the island, a modern building tucked among a tangle of streets. The mortuary's refrigerator has capacity for 65 bodies at any one time. Today a retiree suffered a fatal heart attack and three chronically ill patients from a ward died, joining the 23 men and teenagers who were fished out of the Mediterranean Sea.

"Sub-Saharan," says Dr. Grima. "Eritreans and Somalis, probably." The doctor, who wears an ID card around his neck and a blue shirt, is head of the morgue. He is the guardian of the dead who have no names.

"Today we took their DNA and in two days we will perform autopsies," he says. "Over the weekend we will give them an inter-religious burial, like we did last time."

Though the world is now finally paying attention, everything seen here has already happened before. The 24 bodies will go to the Addolorata cemetery where they will be interred next to the 21 who died in the Oct. 11 2013 sinking, and an Eritrean who tried to escape from Malta's reception center on a small boat, but returned lifeless because of the strong currents.

Malta's Addolorata cemetery — Photo: Ori~

"There is a specific part of the cemetery reserved for migrants," says Grima. That is where they bury these victims without names, and without religion to avoid mistakes.

The day after the wreck in 2013, we came to this hospital for the first time and the atmosphere was very different — in addition to the dead, there were survivors. Everyone was grabbing arms, pleading to make a phone call. They were shouting the names of their relatives in the hopes that answers would come. "Where is my mother?" "My son, my son … please tell me that he was brought to Lampedusa."

Where is Europe?

There was a Syrian boy who was frothing with rage, standing at the door, wearing a baseball cap turned backwards. His name was Molhake Al Roasrn and he made his sea journey from the Libyan port city of Zuwarah. "The Libyans began firing, wounding three people. Because of the panic, everyone came above deck and the ship overturned …"

Perhaps he lost some relatives in the wreck but that was not the reason for his anger. "This is not Europe," he kept repeating. "Yes, yes, you're in Europe now," we tried to console him. "It's not true. I wanted to go to Italy, then to Sweden. That is Europe."

A European Union nation, Malta is a quiet island with a mild climate. There are retired Italians who read newspapers in the sun, groups of English tourists, colonial-style hotels and school classes on field trips. For the immigrants who arrive here, it's a curse. "I didn't undertake that journey to end up here," said Molhake.

Yesterday morning at 9 a.m., the Italian Coast Guard's Gregoretti ship docked at Valletta's port, not far from one particularly large and luxurious yacht with a helicopter on board. Sitting on the main deck of the Italian military ship were survivors, wearing colorful jackets and lucky tracksuits. They watched the corpses being brought ashore, one by one, towards a black van with a cross on its side. "After the initial euphoria at being saved, the ship fell silent," said Captain Gianluigi Bove. "It was when they realized we would be carrying the dead too."

Everybody knows the end of this story too well: the perpetual condemnation to oblivion, an eternal distance from loved ones, the desire not be recognized anymore. In the face of the sheer scale of the latest tragedy, Mater Dei hospital chief Ivan Falzon posted a message on Facebook. "No one even knows who died. Nobody will bring flowers. So let us, as their friends and relatives would. We can try to at least make their deaths gentle."

This is why people are coming to the front of the morgue. People like Gloria Bugeja, who works with stray dogs. "It hurts to think that nobody is mourning these people," she says. "What do their parents know?" She lays a camellia beside the wreath that the Minister for Justice placed down. By 6 p.m. on Monday, eighteen bouquets of flowers had been placed, and at least one note: "For the unidentified dead in Mater Dei, hoping for an eternal paradise. Rest in peace."

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Art installation "Greetings From Giza" by French artist and photographer JR faces the pyramids of Giza in Egypt

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 你好*

Welcome to Tuesday, where violence erupts after Sudan's military coup, Australia finally gets onboard with climate change goals, and Harrison Ford stars in Raiders of the Lost Credit Card. From Bogota, we also see what the capture of drug kingpin Otoniel means for Colombia, a country long stained by cocaine trafficking.

[*Nĭhǎo - Mandarin Chinese]

💡  SPOTLIGHT

Saving the planet is really a question of dopamine

The elite of the ecologically minded are set to descend on Glasgow next week for the Cop 26 conference on climate change. But beyond debating policy prescriptions, French daily Les Echos explores the role our own brains have on making the right choices for the planet:

Almost every week, a new scientific study alerts us to the degradation of the environment. And yet, we continue not to change anything fundamental in our systems of production and habits of consumption. Are we all suffering from blindness, or poisoned by denial?

In his popular books Le Bug humain (The Human Bug) and Où est le sens? (Where is the Sense?), Sébastien Bohler, a journalist in neuroscience and psychology, provides a much more rational explanation: The mechanism responsible for our propensity to destroy our natural environment is in fact a small, very deep and very primitive structure of our brain called the striatum.

This regulator of human motivation seems to have been programmed to favor behaviors that ensure the survival of the species.

Since the dawn of humanity, gathering information about our environment, feeding ourselves, ensuring the transmission of our genes through sexual intercourse and asserting our social status have all been rewarded with a shot of dopamine, the "pleasure hormone."

Nothing has changed since then; except that, in our society of excess, there is no limit to the satisfaction of these needs. This leads to the overconsumption of food and addictions to everything from sex to social media — which together account for much of the world's destructive agricultural and energy practices.

No matter how much we realize that this is leading to our downfall, we can't help but relapse because we are prisoners of the dopamine pump in the striatum, which cannot be switched off.

According to Bohler, the only way out is to encourage the emergence of new values of sobriety, altruism and slowness. If adopted, these more sustainable notions could be recognized by the striatum as new sources of dopamine reward. But there's the challenge of promoting inspiring stories that infuse them with value.

Take the photo-collage exhibition "J'agis ici... et je m'y colle" ("I'm taking action here... and I'm sticking to it"), a collection of life-size portraits of residents committed to the energy transition, displayed on the walls of the French coastal city of La Rochelle.

Backed by the French National Center for Street Arts, photographer Martin Charpentier may be employing artistic techniques, but he's also tinkering with neuroscience in the process.

Stefano Lupieri / Les Echos

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• Sudan in chaos following military coup: After Sudan's military seized power from the transitional government, defiant anti-coup protesters have returned to the streets of the capital city Khartoum, for a second consecutive day. At least seven people have been killed and 140 injured. Coup leader General Al-Burhan has announced a state of emergency across the country, while the military cut off access to the internet and closed roads, bridges, and Khartoum's airport. Washington condemned the coup and suspended aid, and the U.N. Security Council was expected to discuss Sudan behind closed doors later today.

• Egypt lifts state of emergency in force since 2017: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, announced the end of a four-year-old state of emergency, undoing powers that had given the government sweeping authority to quash protests, make arrests, search people's homes without warrants, and control everyday life in the most populous Arab country.

• Platforms take down Bolsonaro video linking vaccine and AIDS: Facebook, Instagram and YouTube have removed an anti-vaccine video from their respective platforms posted by Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. Beyond blocking the video, in which Bolsonaro falsely linked the COVID-19 vaccine with developing AIDS, YouTube went further and suspended the far-right leader for a week.

• COVID update: The U.S. will launch a new travel system on November 8, imposing new vaccine requirements for most foreign national travellers and lifting severe travel restrictions over China, India and much of Europe. Meanwhile, authorities in northern China are reimposing lockdown, and other emergency measures as COVID-19 infections spread to 11 provinces.

• Australia pledges net zero emissions by 2050: As one of the world's largest emitters of greenhouse gases per capita and a major exporter of fossil fuels such as coal, Australia has finally committed to becoming carbon-neutral by 2050. This is a target already adopted by most nations heading to next week's COP26 international climate conference, but that Australia had so far refused to pledge.

• Japanese princess loses royal status over wedding: Japan's Princess Mako married her boyfriend Kei Komuro, giving up her royal status. Under Japanese law, female imperial family members lose their status upon marriage to a "commoner" although male members do not.

Raiders of the Lost Credit Card: A tourist returned the credit card of American actor Harrison Ford, who had lost it in Sicily while shooting scenes for the latest Indiana Jones movie.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

"Out of control," titles German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung, reporting on the release of a series of articles by a consortium of 17 U.S. news outlets, called the "Facebook Papers," that reinforce whistleblower Frances Haugen's claims that the social media giant is prioritizing profits over the well being of its users and society.

#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

$1.01 trillion

After striking a deal to sell 100,000 electric vehicles to car rental firm Hertz, Elon Musk's Tesla has joined Apple, Microsoft, Amazon and Google's Alphabet in the club of companies that have reached a $1 trillion valuation.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

What the capture of a drug kingpin means for Colombia

While the capture of Otoniel, Colombia's most wanted drug trafficker, made global headlines, Bogotá daily El Espectador writes about the significance of the news for a country that has battled narcotrafficking for decades.

👮 The arrest of the Colombian mobster Dairo Antonio Úsuga David, a.k.a. "Otoniel," is a victory for Colombian intelligence, law-and-order forces and the broader fight against crime. Details of the eight-year-long pursuit of the head of the Gulf Clan, of the tireless and meticulous work, testify to the capabilities that the police and army have managed to develop in the fight against the narco-trafficking that has long been a stain on Colombia.

🇨🇴🇲🇽 Otoniel is responsible for a criminal organization with more than 3,800 members and influence on 12 departments and 128 districts in Colombia (though data from the Bogotá-based Peace and Reconciliation Foundation counts 211 districts). The Gulf Clan sends half the drugs going out of Colombia, and is the main exporter to Mexico. Its ties to the Mexican cartel chief Joaquín "el Chapo" Guzmán are well-documented — and Otoniel had aspired to fill the power vacuum left by Guzmán's capture.

⚖️ Some have observed that the ensuing power vacuum will engender more violence, which is true. But we are, in any case, far from eliminating drug trafficking in Colombia or cutting its tentacles across public life. That shows the limitations of the hard-line response to drugs, when we have seen it is not enough. Still, it is essential in any fight against crime for the state to show its operational capabilities. The message is clear: not even drug overlords are above the law in Colombia.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

"I love Mako. I would like to spend my one life with the person I love."

— Kei Komuro said during a news conference after his wedding with Japan's Princess Mako, the niece of the current emperor and the sister of the likely future sovereign. The princess lost her royal status as a result of her marriage with Komuro, a "commoner."

📸  PHOTO DU JOUR

An art installation "Greetings From Giza" by French artist and photographer JR faces the pyramids of Giza in Egypt, as part of the 2021 exhibition "'Forever Is Now," the first international art exhibition to take place there — Photo: Balkis Press/Abaca/ZUMA

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Send all commoner and royal well wishes to Mako and Kei — and let us know what the news looks like from your corner of the world! info@worldcrunch.com

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