A Mother’s Quest: Finding Her Lost Son in the Mediterranean : Analysis

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Rania Abu Aoun, a resident of Daraa al-Balad in Syria, is anxiously waiting for news about her son, Ramy. Ramy’s phone has been off since January 3, 2022, when he left Algeria on a boat headed for Spain. He disappeared during the journey. Ramy, a 30-year-old father of three, embarked on this perilous journey with the hope of securing a better future for his family.

Daraa, especially the Tarik al-Sad neighborhood where the Aoun family resides, has been embroiled in intense fighting between opposition fighters and government forces since the start of the Syrian war in 2011. Rania’s house was hit by an air raid in 2013. The war, coupled with economic challenges faced by Syrian refugees in neighboring countries such as Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey, has driven thousands to attempt the arduous journey to Europe.

By March 2021, over one million Syrians had sought asylum in Europe. However, some, including Ramy and his companions, have vanished without a trace.

Rania describes Ramy as a quiet and studious individual who dreamed of studying commerce and economics. He had previously moved to Lebanon in 2008 to find work and pursue higher education. His return to Syria in 2011 coincided with the outbreak of the revolution.

Due to the escalating attacks on Daraa in 2013, Ramy’s mother, wife, and children moved to Lebanon to live with him. However, Lebanon’s ongoing economic crisis and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic left Ramy struggling to provide for his family. He worked at a restaurant, earning only $50 a month, which was insufficient.

Ramy’s desire to migrate to Europe grew stronger, as he believed it would offer a better life for his children. In May 2021, he connected with a woman named “Latifa” who was supposedly the leader of an international criminal organization specializing in smuggling Syrians into Europe. Latifa orchestrated Ramy’s journey to Spain.

Rania explained that Latifa arranged for Ramy’s travel from Lebanon to Libya via Turkey and Egypt, after which he would be transported by car to Algeria. From Algeria, Ramy planned to take a boat to Almería, Spain. Rania paid $4,000 to Latifa in the hopes that it would cover all expenses.

However, after Ramy arrived in Algeria, Latifa stopped responding to his messages. Ramy’s last phone call to his family was on January 3, 2022, after which he and his companions, including Syrians, Moroccans, and Algerians, set sail on a dinghy towards Spain. There has been no contact since that night.

Rania and the families of Ramy’s companions started searching for their missing loved ones, but they received little assistance. Abu Al-Dhahab Al-Raqqawi, an intermediary potentially involved in Ramy’s departure from Algeria, denied any responsibility and dismissed claims of a sinking boat.

Anouar, the wife of one of Ramy’s companions, reached out to the Spanish Red Cross and filed a complaint with the Spanish Ombudsman. However, investigations yielded no information about her husband, implying that he and his companions never arrived in Spain.

Despite losing hope, Rania received an anonymous tip on Facebook in November 2022, stating that Ramy and his companions were captured and imprisoned in Almería, Spain, for drug-related offenses. When Spain’s General Secretariat of Penitentiary Institutions was contacted to verify this information, it responded that the named individuals were not registered in any prison.

Rania and Anouar now collaborate with numerous families who have experienced similar disappearances on sea voyages to Spain. They lament the lack of support from authorities and argue that NGOs like the Spanish Red Cross cannot shoulder the responsibility for supporting families and conducting searches—the police should take charge.

According to Helena Maleno, the founder of Caminando Fronteras, the year 2022 saw at least 500 people go missing or die while attempting the Algerian route to Spain, making it the deadliest sea route after the one to the Canary Islands. Since 2014, the International Organization for Migration reports that 28,229 people have been reported missing or dead in the Mediterranean. This year has been the deadliest since 2017.

Caminando Fronteras has assisted families in filing police reports and has observed an increase in investigations and DNA testing for those who disappeared in the Mediterranean. However, Rania believes that these efforts are too little, too late.

After nearly two years of her son’s disappearance, Rania returned to Syria with Ramy’s wife and children, seeking solace in their war-damaged home that holds Ramy’s memory. Rania desperately hopes for closure and pleads to know whether her son is alive or dead.

Source: Aljazeera news: Taken by the Mediterranean: A mother’s search for her lost son

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