Memoria Mediterranea

Hedi and Mehdi Khenissi (2019)


Hedi and Mehdi, young Tunisians aged 24 and 22, left by boat from Bizerte in November 2019 to reach Italy, along with Akram, Anis, Kais. The two brothers were two students, but their family’s difficult living conditions had prompted them to start working. They helped their father in fishing activities in the waters of Bizerte and thus tried to support their family. Hedi and Mehdi loved soccer and music, attended the local team, and used to turn their bedroom into a concert hall with their sister Nourhene.
The lack of job opportunities made them dissatisfied and eager to fulfill themselves elsewhere. Victims of a shipwreck that took place following a sudden gale, their bodies were found in late 2019 and early 2020, at the height of the onset of the pandemic, on the Sicilian coast between the provinces of Palermo and Messina.

Hedi and Mahdi’s mother, Jalila Taamallah, traveled to Italy in 2021 to carry out-with the support of her lawyer Serena Romano and the associations that accompanied her-the painful procedure of identification, exhumation of the bodies-which had meanwhile been buried in the cemeteries of Trabia (Pa) and Castel di Tusa (Me)-and repatriation of the bodies. Jalila had to launch a fundraiser to reach the amount needed to carry out the transport of the bodies to Tunisia, since the Tunisian Consulate did not guarantee to cover the expenses. Thanks to donations from associations, sympathetic singolə and the financial contribution offered by the Sicilian municipalities concerned, the bodies returned to Menzel Bourguiba in the spring of 2021.

Throughout this period, Hedi and Mahdi’s family has also been plagued by unfounded accusations against their migrant sons, who have been the victims of criminalizing defamation: the two Tunisians have been fingered in Italian newspapers as drug traffickers, assuming a relationship of the two brothers with an international drug trade that has since been totally denied.

Today, the bodies of Hedi and Mahdi rest in the Menzel Bourguiba cemetery, under the protection of their mother Jalila Taamallah, who has since become an international migrant rights activist, particularly committed to supporting the families of people who have disappeared or died at the hands of borders.

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