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.

story continues below

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.)

The best longform stories, in one weekly email.
We use cookies. By Clicking "OK" or any content on this site, you agree to allow cookies to be placed. Read more in our privacy policy.
Get the news faster.
Tap to install our app.
Install the Newser News app
in two easy steps:
1. Tap in your navigation bar.
2. Tap to Add to Home Screen.