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Activists begin wave of refugee burials in Berlin

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Photo: DPA
16:43 CEST+02:00
An artists’ collective claims to be bringing hundreds of refugees’ corpses from southern Europe to Berlin to give them a proper burial at "the centre of European power." The first burials took place on Tuesday morning.

At the Gatow cemetery on Tuesday morning a row of five women wearing Muslim headscarves cried as mourners threw dirt over a coffin that had just been placed in the ground.

In the background flew UN flags. As an imam gave the service, VIP seats reserved for Chancellor Angela Merkel and other leading members of the German government lay empty.

The funeral was the first of several to take place over the coming days for what artists' collective the Centre for Political Beauty says are refugees exhumed from mass graves in Italy and Greece.

A member of the group told The Local that Tuesday's burials were of Syrian-Palestinian refugees.

Germany has joined forces with other countries to address the ongoing crisis of migrants from conflict-torn countries seeking to flee by boat to European shores across the Mediterranean Sea.

Since January, around 103,000 people have attempted to make the crossing, and more than 1,000 have died.  

Vice has previously reported on the existence of unmarked graves of migrants in Greece.

Staking claim to the Chancellery

The burials are set to happen every day until Sunday when the group plan a march from Unter den Linden in central Berlin to the Chancellery, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s office and official residence.

A digger will lead the march and they plan to bury refugees, who died while making the treacherous crossing into Europe, at the Chancellery - right at the seat of German power.

The group claims that a loophole in German law gives them the right to bury the bodies in front of the Chancellery.

Speaking to The Local by phone, Joschka Fleckenschein, one of the group’s organizers, said that the burials were no stunt and that they had ”definitely” brought the bodies of dead refugees from southern Europe.

“It is much easier for dead people to cross [European] borders than it is for living people,” he claimed.

The corpses belong to refugees from Syria and Libya he explained. Asked to confirm how many people would be buried in Berlin over the coming days, he said that the number lies “between two and 2,000.”

“It is dependent on how much money we can raise through crowdfunding in the meantime,” he said.

But he also then claimed “there are hundreds of bodies on the way to Berlin.”

'To the heart of Europe'

“Europe was their goal, now they are coming to the heart of Europe,” another group member told The Local.

The bodies were buried in mass graves without names and without flowers, and their loved ones were not informed, she claimed.

“We are changing that now and are giving the dead migrants their last rights.

“They are now on their way to Germany and their loved ones have the last say on what happens with them.

"Their deaths cannot be undone, but their mortal remains can bring about the fall of Europe’s walls.”

Hearse detained

The collective's story was partially verified by Bavarian police, who confirmed to the Local that they had detained a vehicle on Friday after suspecting the driver to be under the influence of drugs.

Upon examining the contents of the vehicle, they found two coffins with corpses inside. The car was released within 24 hours because the driver had the correct certification to transport bodies from Italy to Germany.

“It later turned out that the vehicle had a connection to a political action,” said the spokesperson. “But we were not aware of this at the time we detained the vehicle.”

But he said “we cannot confirm who the bodies belong to".

Inquiries as to the origin of the corpses with the Italian and Greek embassies in Berlin as well as the German embassy in Rome had not been answered by the time of publication.

Liv Stroud contributed to this report.

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