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Memorial to Humanity - Stages of the project




Introduction


The project Memorial to Humanity first started as an idea to clean and tidy up the burial ground in Kato Tritos, Lesvos, where asylum seekers were being buried. This idea sparked from conversations between Fabiola Velasquez, Earth medicine’s founder and director and Prof. Dr. Gerhard Trabert from the German organisation Armunt und Gesundheit. It then evolved into a plan to transform the burial ground into a more dignified resting place with proper graves instead of the existing mounds of earth on the ground, and to make into a place where all those who have lost their lives seeking refuge in Europe could be remembered. The planning of this project involved learning about the legal requirements that countries need to follow in order to bury those who die on their land and getting informed about the customs and rituals performed in countries where asylum seekers were coming from so that this could be honoured. All of this, along with the planning and coordination of every stage of the project, has been the work of Ms. Velasquez, while the finances have been covered by Armunt und Gesundheit. After the planning stage, permission to carry out the works had to be obtained from the local authorities in Mytilene. Earth Medicine applied for this permit and after months of waiting and conversations with local officials, permission was granted on 23 May 2023.


The next stage of the project consisted on obtaining the materials from local suppliers and coordinating the workers so that works could be initiated. Works on the project finally started in October 2023. Different teams have been working intensely since then and we expect the project to be completed by April 2024. The ceremony to mark its completion and to hand it over to the local authorities will be on 17th April 2024.





As mentioned in the official proposal, all necessary materials and tools were bought in the shops local to the burial ground – in the surroundings of Kato Tritos village, and in Mytilene, the island’s capital. For us it was important to use this opportunity to strengthen our relationship with the community by contributing to the local economy and by showing our respect to this land and those who live here.





It was also important for us to involve people from the local community and from the asylum seekers population in the project to promote integration and increase community cohesion. All the work pertaining to the project is being carried out by a team of volunteers composed by a mixture of Greek professionals and asylum seekers currently living in Mavrovouni camp in Lesvos. 



Stages of the project


The following are the main steps of the project. Each stage has been closely monitored and approved on completion by representatives of the Municipality of  Mytilene, which is the authority responsible for the burial site.


Cleaning and cutting grass and bushes



The project works officially started on 14th October, 2023 when Prof. Dr. Gerhard Trabert and the team of asylum seekers, coordinated by Earth Medicine’s worker Mr. Sohrab Shizrad, started to clear the site by cutting overgrown grass and bushes. This allowed us to start the identification of the existing graves. 


Creating the burial ground plot, picture files, and grave count



On October 20th, 2023, when the terrain was fully cleared, the technical team composed by the Topographer Stelios Tsobanellis, the Photographer Thomas Mamakos, and Earth Medicine’s Administrative and local team coordinator Malvina Tampra, started to work on drawing the land plot.  


The main purpose of this was to obtain a detailed map of the site which allowed us to identify all the existing graves in the burial ground. The picture files compiled during this time constitute a visual record of all the graves as we initially found them. 


The most difficult tasks during this stage were counting the graves and identifying the people buried in them. We haven’t been able to find any records of the deceased and we don’t know if they actually exist. The majority of the graves had been marked with a wooden stick which in some cases had no name, and in others the name was written in ink but it was now faded an illegible.


In addition, a number of deaths have occurred at sea and in the refugee camp since the work started and the bodies have been buried in this burial ground. This has meant that the ground plot has had to be constantly updated and amended.


Construction of the graves



On November 15th, 2023 the team of builders started to make an external frame around each of the 189 graves which are currently found in the burial ground. However, this number is expected to increase as, unfortunately, drownings are still happening in the Aegean Sea around the island as people continue to make the dangerous crossing towards Lesvos.


The team of builders composed by asylum seekers has already finished building in concrete the external frames of all existing graves. Marble plates with the names carved on them (when the name is known) will then be placed on the graves. Those whose name is still unknown will also have a marble plate on their grave. 


A layer of resistant plastic or PVC will cover the surface of each grave to prevent the vegetation to grow through. On top of this, there will be a layer of white pebbles and finally a layer of white plaster will be applied to give a tidy finish to the graves. 


We have been careful to follow the indications of asylum seekers regarding the customary requirements for a proper grave in their countries of origin. This includes not only how the graves are built but also the direction of in which they are placed and other important considerations regarding burial rituals.



Improvements of the “Ghusl Khanh” washing and shrouding room.


The GHUSL procedure (Washing & Shrouding)

When a Muslim person dies, it is the responsibility of their family or of other Muslims within the local community to wash the body according to the Islamic rites of washing the deceased. Usually at least three or four people will be involved with the actual ghusl (washing and shrouding).


The persons who may wash the deceased should:

  • Be an adult Muslim, honest and trustworthy person;

  • Be of the same gender as the deceased i.e. if the deceased is male, then ONLY males should wash the body;

  • For a child, either males or females may do the ghusl;

  • Know the Islamic way of washing the deceased and be able to carry out the ghusl;

  • It is recommended that those who performed the washing should make wudhu (ablution).


Place of washing and method

  • The body of the deceased should be washed in a clean, secluded, and private place where clean water and soap are available. Gloves must always be worn when handling and washing the deceased;

  • The body of the deceased should be washed with water and, if available, lotus leaves, or camphor (to be used in the final wash);

  • The steps of the washing should be done at least three times any more odd number of times as necessary to cleanse;

  • Always be mindful of infection control and protecting the person performing the Ghusl;


According to the requirements for the Ghusl rite, the existing washing room in the burial ground is far from adequate. It is a dark, unclean building, where the surface used to wash the bodies was rotting due to humidity. We were shocked to see how neglected this place was and sad to witness how dehumanising it is for asylum seekers to experience something that is sacred to them being disrespected in such a way. 

 

Our objective is to replace the current rotting washing table with a new one made of cement and ceramic with the head site towards the Qiblah. The table will be slightly elevated to allow the water to run towards the feet and fall through the slots. This design will prevent the water from falling everywhere and prevent excess of humidity from accumulating inside the room.


We plan to fix the current door, paint the room, build a shelve to store all materials to perform the Ghusl. We will also equip the room with trash bin and rubbish bags to avoid rubbish depositions inside or outside the room. 


It will be the responsibility asylum seekers community to preserve this place clean and organised after we conclude our work. 


Grave’s pathways and fence construction 



The final steps include the construction of small pathways between the graves to allow visitors to walk safely and prevent them from stepping on the graves. This will also give shape to the site and create a tidy, organised feel to it. Finally, we will build a fence around the burial ground. We are expecting the Topographer from the Municipality to give us a final plot in order to do this final step.

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Kara Tepe, Centre for Refugees & Migrants, Lesbos T.K 81100, Greece.

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