Mare Mortum

Journeys of dreams and nightmares

The Mediterranean, the erstwhile Mare Nostrum, the sea that shapes our towns, landscapes and memories, has become in recent years one of the most violent borders in the world, and a mass grave. To rectify this situation, numerous human rights activists in Catalonia have come together to create the platform Stop Mare Mortum.

According to the Missing Migrants database of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), in 2019 a total of 128,536 people attempted to make their way to Europe via the migratory routes of the Mediterranean. Of these, 1,885 people (approximately 1.5%) did not make it, losing their lives at sea as a result of the lack of legal, safe forms of emigration. Since 2014, the number of lives lost in the Mediterranean has reached 20,000. If we start counting from 2000, 40,000 people have lost their lives on European borders. This data corresponds only to those cases that have been recorded, and clearly does not provide the full picture.

Who are these people who risk their lives to change homelands, and where do they come from? They are children, young people and adults from various countries in Africa and Asia. Some flee war, political repression, or persecution on religious, ethnic, or sexual identity grounds. Others are escaping economic instability, extreme poverty, and/or a lack of work or other opportunities. They are all refugees and migrants, a distinction that is often very difficult to make.


Barge intercepted by the Italian navy / MASSIMO SESTINI

Country of origin of people emigrating:

  • 32% Síria
  • 13% Afganistan
  • 5% Myanmar
  • 4% R. D. Congo
  • 3% R. Centreafricana
  • 2% Iraq
  • 1% Colòmbia
  • 18% Veneçuela
  • 11% Sudan del Sud
  • 4% Somàlia
  • 4% Sudan
  • 2% Eritrea
  • 2% Vietnam
  • 1% Xina

Data from 2019

Demographics: gender and age


Source: UNHCR


The battle against the sea

In 2019, at least 1,885 people drowned in the Mediterranean as a consequence of the lack of safe migration routes, the makeshift boats in which they were sailing sinking. Of these victims, at least 1,262 (67% of the total) perished in the central Mediterranean, that is, the crossing between Libya and Italy and Malta. In the western Mediterranean – the area between Northwest Africa and Spain – there were 552 fatalities (29.2%), while in the area between Turkey and Greece, the eastern Mediterranean, 71 people died (3.8% of the total) (IOM).

In recent years, thousands of people have drowned in the Mediterranean


Reminders of the arrival of boats on the island of Kos / SERGI CÁMARA


Fences in Melilla / SERGI CÁMARA

Deaths and tortures, border wars

Melilla: fences that cut deep

In February 2014, fifteen young migrants died in the border waters between Spain and Morocco. They were trying to reach the coast of Ceuta by swimming, when the Civil Guard intervened using rubber balls and smoke bombs. Taking its name from the beach where the attack took place, the Tarajal case was shelved for the third time in a row last October 2019, marking 6 years of impunity.

At present, the three-dimensional barrier in Melilla consists of a set of three parallel fences, 12 kilometres long and 6 high, with barbed wire and spikes – known as “concertinas” – at the top. Several organizations have drawn attention to the injuries caused to those trying to cross this barrier by these spikes.

The new PSOE-Podemos coalition government has begun to withdraw the concertinas, but at the cost of a 30% increase in the height of the fences, and a more active role in border control in Morocco. At the same time, the government continues to support the actions of the police forces on the southern border in carrying out “express deportations” on a daily basis, in contravention of basic human rights as has been highlighted by a multitude of NGOs, and despite the unfavourable judgement recently issued by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).


“For this sea to be a safe zone for you, the earth must be hell”

Òscar Camps, Proactiva Open Arms

“To Kyma. Rescue in the Aegean Sea” /  LA  KASETA