The Border Graves Investigation

The Border Graves Investigation Team was selected for the 2024 Shortlist with The Border Graves Investigation.

A cross-border team confirmed 1,015 unmarked graves of migrants in 65 cemeteries buried over the last 10 years across Spain, Italy, Greece, Malta, Poland, Lithuania, France, and Croatia. The main Border Graves Investigation team of eight journalists visited over half of them.

Unidentified migrants rest in cemeteries in olive groves, on hilltops, in dense forests, and along remote highways. Each unmarked grave represents a person who lost their life en route to Europe, and a fate that will remain forever unknown to their loved ones.

Over one thousand people are confirmed to have been failed by Europe’s migration policies. In 2021, the European Parliament passed a resolution recognizing the need for a “coordinated European approach” for “prompt and effective identification processes” for bodies found on EU borders. Yet last year, the Council of Europe called this area a “legislative void.”

These failures mean that the responsibility of memorializing unidentified victims often ends up falling to individual municipalities, cemetery keepers and even good-willed residents, with many victims being buried without any attempt at identification.

In the absence of official data from European and national governments, the Border Graves Investigation team collaborated with The Guardian and Süddeutsche Zeitung to count 2,162 unidentified deaths of migrants across eight countries in Europe from 2014-2023.

The cross-border team conducted over 60 interviews in six languages. They spoke with families of the missing and deceased, whose loved ones left for Europe from Syria, Afghanistan, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Iraqi Kurdistan, Algeria, and Sri Lanka. They spoke about the institutional and bureaucratic hurdles of searching for, and if found, burying a body. One mother compared the unresolved grief to an “open wound,” and an uncle said it was like “dying every day.”

In order to understand the complex legal, medical, and political landscape of death in each country, the team spoke with coroners, grave keepers, forensic doctors, international and local humanitarian groups, government officials, a European MEP, and the Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner.

Their in-depth investigation reveals that the European Union is violating migrants’ last rights.

Main Team: 

Collaborating team:


Additional Credits: 

This investigation was supported by Investigative Journalism for Europe and Journalismfund Europe. Additional support by Limelight Foundation.

Publications:

English

Unbias the News:


CBC:


Guardian:

Balkan Insight:


Madrid No Frills:


Lithuanian Radio Television (LRT): 


Lithuanian

Spanish

Italian

German

Greek

Croatian

Bulgarian