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At a Loss at the Loss at Sea: The Missing Migrants of the Mediterranean and the (Bermuda) Triangle of Space, Communication, and Justice

Authors: Bader AlBader*, University of Michigan, Odessa Gonzalez Benson, University of Michigan, Vadim Besprozvany, University of Michigan, Antonio Siciliano, University of Michigan, Elena Godin, University of Michigan, Imed Soltani, Association La Terre Pour Tous
Topics: Migration, Immigration/Transnationalism, Social Geography
Keywords: Loss, Disappearance, Migration, Sea, North Africa, Families
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/9/2020
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:15 AM
Room: Virtual Track 12
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Over the last decade, more than half a million people crossed the sea from North Africa to Southern Europe in search of a livelihood. Those recorded dead or missing exceed 10,000. The Italian government and international organizations manage rehousing, or burial, of migrants without due process; deaths are tallied as mere statistics and bodies are not identified nor given due respect. Meanwhile, behind each missing person are those who remain in search, demanding answers and seeking closure. We aim to counter narratives which depict missing migrants as statistics and to humanize the migrant as a beloved, long lost subject. Our larger project explores how Tunisian families toggle between loss and hope, between forbearance and action, and this paper highlights the tripartite lacuna within which these families find themselves: the slipping of their sons into the black box of intercontinental "illegal immigration" betrays an inability to speak of that which is unknown and thus explicates the illusiveness of closure. To triangulate between space, communication, and justice in these families' experiences is to demarcate an empty void around which the constellation of grassroots actors hover, a psychological Bermuda Triangle, the mysteries of which produce more anguishing questions than consoling solutions. To co-opt Claude Lefort's terminology, at the heart of these experiences is an "empty place of power[lessness]." Nonetheless the families live the day-to-day, their hearts yearning for a reunion here and now, their eyes fixed on the Northern (event) horizon.

Postscript: May their eyes find coolness.

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