Tunisia: the African garden of Zarzis

Visiting Tunisia, the Director – General of Unesco, Audrey Azoulay, inaugurates this Wednesday, June 9, an atypical site located in Zarzis, in the south of the country: it is a cemetery for migrants called the “Jardin d’Afrique”, fully funded and created by the Algerian visual artist Rachid Koraïchi.

In the silence of the cemetery, only a wheelbarrow and a shovel can be heard. The workers close the graves for the new arrivals: migrants south of the Sahara who died in a shipwreck in the Mediterranean.

Rachid Koraïchi, an Algerian artist, wanted to hire these men, women and infants by burying them. Most are identified only by small plaques with a description, which the artist explains by showing a small stele:

“The body arrived at Homt Souk, the person wore a black shirt, he arrived on September 21 and was buried on 05/29/2021 so we have elements. If the family one day knows that the boat that sank has left the bodies here, we will also have DNA tests to compare the two tests “

Plants, flowers and fruit trees grow between the graves, framed by alleys covered with colored ceramics. A metaphor, according to the artist, of a lost paradise. “I decided to line this avenue with very beautiful succulents, which will shed some light and make this sour and sickly notion of graves disappear,” Rachid Koraïchi indicates.

In 2019, when he started building the cemetery, it was also a humanitarian gesture, for the city of Zarzis, which had to deal with every week, recovered bodies from the sea. “We started in the middle of the construction site, there were already 56 bodies that the authorities did not know where to place. They had already put them there when we had barely made the perimeter wall. “

Today, almost 600 graves have been dug and stacked, separated by concrete to accommodate bodies, wrapped in waterproof plastic. The idea is to be able to easily dig them out if needed. “You really have to think from the beginning that one day the families would come and get the bodies. For me, it’s basic. It really is to mourn, to make the grave his son, his mother or his brother … ”, the artist appreciates.

And to help families, Rachid built a prayer room, but also a room that was meant to be a mortuary, so that DNA samples could be taken directly on site. “We will make a series of plans, glued to the wall, enough to contain between 16 and 18 bodies, allowing us to find the bodies that are buried, we bury them one by one and we do not leave them stacked in the heat. , but we bury them in good conditions. ”

Almost 200 bodies are already buried in this cemetery. Others keep coming. More than 120 migrants have died at sea between May and June this year.

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