Francesco Bellina


Zarzis, Madanīn, Tunisia

Over 18,000 people have died in the Sicilian Channel in the last seven years, including sub-Saharans and Tunisians. More and more young Tunisians are leaving the shores of their country, amidst political crises and the dreams of infancy after the Arab Spring, bound for Lampedusa and then France.

Some of their boats, or what is left of them, are buried in the sands of Zarzis, others are mass-produced in some shipyards that make fast, cheap boats. On the one hand, there are many young people who, before leaving, turn to local spiritual figures like Hajja Mbarca, to ask for protection, invisible and powerful, to receive a blessing for their journey, to write an invocation in henna on the walls of a deconsecrated mosque.

Many of them had left their names carved on the rocks before leaving, as a sign of good luck.

On the other side, there are grown men, tired of seeing their children run away. Men like Chamseddine Marzoug, a former fisherman, who 10 years ago set up a cemetery for those who did not manage to cross the Mediterranean and who he managed to fish out with his brother. And men like Mohsen Lihidheb, who has decided to honour the victims of migration by recovering objects left by the sea on the beaches: jackets, shoes, letters. Thus combining environmental activism and human rights and creating the Zarzis Sea Museum.

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