"Green Island Tomb" End of Line for Illegal Immigrants

26.Jan.05,  first published by Islam Online: read the original article here.

Adverse poverty in north Africa and sub-Sahara region, coupled with dreams of a better life in Europe, have always made the perfect ingredients for an immigration trip into Spain via the narrow Strait of Gibraltar.

The strict visa requirements, however, along with the barely affordable costs of a secret trip on vulnerable small boats push migration-hopefuls to take the risk. Unfortunately, the dream usually ends in a nightmare, making the Green Island cemetery the end of line.

The gloomy cemetery is the burial ground for many immigrants of Moroccan and African origin, who breathed their last while taking the death road through Gibraltar, preoccupied with the "European dream".

One of the tragic incidents was the drowning of 40 illegal Moroccan immigrants when their boat capsized in October 2003.

Thousands of cement graves with their pale gray color, which adds to the sepulchral atmosphere, are decked with iron, marble crosses and eulogies to the deceased.

Colorful flowers and copper cups engraved with the names of the dead failed to make the gravestones less gloomier.


Many tombs; nevertheless, are seen deserted with no flowers placed nearby or even a word of sorrow written.

They are the graves of many illegal immigrants whom Spanish authorities did not manage to identify either because they were picked in pieces as they drowned in shark-infested areas or their families could not afford round-trip flights to identify or retrieve them.

Since 1988, more than 300 bodies, of whom 90% from countries South of the Sahara and the rest from Morocco, have been buried in the Green Island cemetery, according to cemetery officials.

Other Spanish cemeteries along the Strait of Gibraltar have been extended to shelter the bodies of illegal African and North African immigrants.

"Cemeteries in the area are falling apart at the seams," a cemetery keeper, who has been on the career for more than 20 years, told IslamOnline.net.

A cemetery official told IOL that some of the dead were identified because they wore a chain carrying their names.

"They also wore crucifixes in the hope of being laid to rest in Christian tombs or to receive Church help in case they were arrested by Spanish coastguards," he added.

Since early 1990s, illegal immigration to Europe, especially to Spain, has been booming.

Boats carrying thousands of illegal immigrants cross the Strait of Gibraltar toward coasts of the European countries after the EU countries slapped entry visas on third-world citizens.

Back-breaking Costs

It costs an already destitute family between 2,000 euros to 4,000 euros to bring the body of their lost relative back home.

Such back-breaking costs makes many families give up hopes to burry home the bodies of their loved ones, leaving Green Island cemetery as the one and only option.

"It is extremely difficult for any family, who sold their precious belongings, had their homes mortgaged and borrowed from relatives to provide money for the immigration trip, to pay extra money to bring back their loved ones if they died abroad," Kareem, a former illegal immigrant who was arrested by Spanish police and deported to Morocco, told IOL.

"Most of these families live from hand to mouth, so how can they pay for the costs of such trips? He wondered.

"Thank God I returned home alive to spare my family such high costs."

By Al-Amin Andalusi, IOL Correspondent