Memoria Mediterranea

Wissem Ben Abdel Latif (2021)

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Wissem Ben Abdel Latif died at dawn on Nov. 28, 2021, at the age of 26 from cardiovascular arrest while strapped to a bed in a psychiatric ward of an Italian hospital. He died after crossing the Mediterranean on a barge, without ever having experienced a single moment of freedom in Italy, without having been able to exercise his rights as an asylum seeker, suffering an administrative detention that should have ended before his death and whose inhumane conditions and injustice he had denounced, undergoing psychiatric treatment that descended from asylum paraphernalia. This is the brief summary of his story, consummated in less than two months since his arrival in Italy.

Wissem, as most of his friends had already done, left Tunisia on a boat to reach Europe with the hope of building a better future for himself and his family. Wissem started in early October 2021. He was a quiet, athletic and always smiling young man, so family members describe him. After disembarking in Lampedusa, he was taken to the island’s hotspot and, from there, transferred, first to a quarantine ship for anti-Covid provisions and, later, to the Ponte Galeria Detention Center for Repatriation (Cpr) in Rome. The last communication between Wissem and the family takes place from this very detention center. Wissem had started out healthy, but after forty days of deprivation of liberty, he was diagnosed, somewhat hastily, with schizoaffective disorder for which he was transferred to the hospital. Meanwhile, a justice of the peace had ruled that he should be set free. Instead, no one told him about it and he remained sedated and tied to a supernumerary bed in the hallway of a psychiatric ward until his death.

The autopsy examination was performed without informing family members, who learned of Wissem’s death from the Embassy a full five days later. So many questions are still waiting to be answered. In March 2022, the “Truth and Justice Committee for Wissem Ben Abdel Latif,” of which Mem.Med is also a member, was formed with the aim of maintaining attention on what happened and fighting together with his family members so that all responsibilities, faults, and omissions related to this umpteenth and unjust death are ascertained.

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