In memory of Lassana Cisse

On April 6th 2019, Lassana Cisse – originally from the Ivory Coast – was walking home in Malta along a quiet country road. Driving down the same road were two young Maltese soldiers: as they passed Lassana, one of them fired a gun from the moving car, and shot him in cold blood. Lassana died at the scene.

Two other men, one from Gambia and one from Guinea, were also shot on the same stretch of road that night, and were rushed to hospital for treatment before being released. These incidents occurred just two months after a 17-year-old migrant from Chad was hit by a car and left unconscious by the side of the same road.

The brutality of Lassana’s death has sparked shock and outrage among migrant and NGO communities in Malta, which have come together in solidarity, refusing to let Lassana’s death go unmarked. On April 27th, a memorial service was held at the spot where he was killed. Sixty-four organisations were represented, as well as Lassana’s friends, activists and members of the public – people who refuse to accept that an innocent man can be murdered on their streets, and not be honoured in some way. These same groups have repeatedly called for Maltese authorities to fully investigate the crime: the two soldiers are currently on trial for what is believed to be Malta’s fist racially motivated murder.

Civil society plays a key part in bearing witness to the violence experienced by migrants in Europe. Too often, people’s lives – and deaths – slide into obscurity simply because they are labelled as ‘migrant’. Too easily, we distance ourselves from these lives, we perceive these people as just another statistic, just another number. But every death is a tragedy, and every person who dies deserves to be remembered.  

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The IOM’s Missing Migrants Project tracks incidents where migrants have gone missing whilst trying to reach safety. The project was started after 368 people drowned off the coast of Lampedusa in 2013 (in the same shipwreck that inspired the foundation of MOAS), and since then has provided up-to-date information to highlight the dangers involved in migrant crossings.

Meanwhile UNITED, a pan-European NGO platform of over 550 organisations, has compiled ‘The List of Deaths’. Spanning three decades, The List documents all known deaths of migrants and refugees who have perished trying to reach Europe between 1993 and 2018. The List contains 35,597 entries – 35,597 people who never reached safety.

Through records like these, we are forced to acknowledge the reality created by the policies and practices of European governments which deny safe passage to desperate people. We are forced to face the consequences of both random acts of violence, and the systemic abuse of displaced people who are trying to find a better life.

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Each person on The List, or listed by the Missing Migrants Project, had a life, had hopes and dreams. None of these people deserve to be forgotten, and civil society must continue to play its vital part in ensuring this never happens.

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