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They Didn't Survive the Journey. He Gets Them Home

A profile of Spanish funeral parlor owner Martín Zamora
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 16, 2021 5:25 PM CDT
When Nameless Bodies Wash Up, He Finds Their Homes
The Bay of Algeciras is shown.   (Getty Images)

(Newser) – "Sometimes, I get the feeling that some years ahead—in 30, 40, 50 years, I don't know how many—they will look at us like monsters. They’ll see us all as monsters because we just let people die this way." It's a powerful quote that Martín Zamora gave to the New York Times, which decided to profile the man it dubs the "body collector of Spain." Zamora owns a funeral parlor in Algeciras, near Gibraltar, and has found a grim but necessary niche since 1999: returning home the bodies of migrants who don't succeed in their journey across the Mediterranean to Spain. The 61-year-old says he has managed to get more than 800 bodies home. It's no easy task, between convincing municipal officials to hand him a body and connecting with smugglers to track down relatives.

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The identification alone is a mass challenge. "It can be hard to identify someone’s face," he says. "But a shoe, a jersey, a T-shirt—suddenly a family member will recognize it." He recounts how his pursuit began in 1999, when he was hired by the local government to bury 16 migrants' bodies and found a phone number in one of the victims' pockets. It led him to a relative in Morocco, and Zamora then traveled there with personal effects from the others; he identified all of them. The challenge doesn't end once the connection is made. Zamora charges a minimum of $3,500 to repatriate a body, but the families of most victims have little; the Times speaks with the imam of one Algeciras mosque who collects funds to assist the families. (Read the full story for much more on Zamora's seemingly endless work.)

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