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Internship of ACM Students at The Last Rights Project

The Last Rights project is creating a new framework of respect for the rights of missing and dead refugees and migrants and bereaved family members, to transform research and legal principles into deliverable, real benefits and respect for human rights. Last Rights is a project of Methoria, a charity registered in the UK, No.1188043.

You can refer to the Last Rights project website (Link) for more details.

“In April 2022, Syd Bolton and Catriona Jarvis of The Last Rights Project, participated in an interdisciplinary international conference at the Maison Française in Oxford, UK, entitled “Bodies on the Edge: Life and Death in Migration” organized by Thanatic Ethics.

Together with Yumna Masarwa (Dean of the School of Art at the American College of the Mediterranean (ACM)/Institute for American Universities (IAU) in Aix-en-Provence, France) and Félicien de Heusch (PhD candidate in Social and Political Science at the University of Liège, Belgium), we participated in a panel on “Body Repatriation in Times of Covid,” chaired by Dr. Nada Afiouni (Le Havre University). The Last Rights spoke about the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic in relation to the deaths of migrants and their bereaved families during the height of the pandemic, based on our report “Every Body Counts”. The discourse over the three days of the conference was intense yet stimulating as academics, practitioners and activists came together to share their research, thoughts and possibilities in addressing some of the most challenging and serious consequences of global migration policies.

It was with great enthusiasm that shortly after the conference, the Last Rights received a request from Yumna Masarwa, who works on burial and body repatriation among Algerians in Marseilles, asking whether we might need some assistance in our work and offered help from her students at the ACM/IAU to work pro bono for our project over the Summer of 2022. We jumped at the opportunity and gratefully said yes to three master students joining us as interns. As with most not-for-profit NGO projects, funding is always in short supply and hard won. The benefit of three students working pro bono with us is invaluable. It has enabled us to bring forward one of our major plans, to begin the process of documenting and mapping the policies and practices of all European Union Member States in relation to their responsibilities for the bodies of deceased migrants, including funerary practices, repatriation procedures, assistance to bereaved families and other issues arising from a death during migration. In due course, we aim to publish the first comprehensive EU wide analysis of these practices and to highlight gaps in policy and practice as we anticipate there will be many. 

Our interns, students at ACM for Masters Degrees in International Relations, Maria Velasquez-Aristizabal, Emilia Vicente-Santana and Mamadou Diallo, began their work immediately once the formalities had been attended to and hit the ground running. Each is dedicating twenty-four hours per week to this project, which commenced in early June and will run until 29 August 2022. We meet weekly via “Zoom” (since we, as Co-Conveners of Last Rights, are based in the north of France), when we update on progress and debrief. On 27 June 2022, we made the journey to Aix-en-Provence to meet everyone personally and to talk about our organisation and our work, to professors and students at the ACM. We are delighted to have formed this relationship with the ACM/IAU and personally, with Yumna, her colleagues and her students, who were wonderful, thoughtful hosts. It will certainly enrich our work and our networks and we look forward to continuing with similar and related activities in collaboration with the ACM and the IAU over the months and years to come. In the following section of this article, we hand over to Yumna, Maria, Emilia and Mamadou for their own thoughts and perspectives.”

Syd Bolton & Catriona Jarvis, Co-Conveners of The Last Rights Project

“Thanks to the Thanatic Ethics International and interdisciplinary conference on “Bodies on the Edge: Life and Death in Migration,” which took place in Oxford at the end of April 2022, I met Catriona Jarvis and Syd Bolton and learned about The Last Rights Project. This project is very relevant to my ongoing ethnographic research in Marseilles studying burial and body repatriation among French Muslims, enacting Islamic funerary rites in the migratory context, and the role of Muslim women in the death industry. Therefore, when three of my students in the “Muslim Presence in Europe” class approached me asking whether I could help them find an internship for the summer, I immediately thought about The Last Rights Project and contacted Catriona Jarvis and Syd Bolton. Things went very fast and the students started their internship smoothly and quickly.

The students and I were very impressed by how responsive, disciplined, professional and efficient Catriona and Syd are. We were also very happy and honoured to welcome them on campus at the ACM/IAU in Aix-en-Provence on 27 June 2022. During this visit, The Last Rights Project Conveners had the opportunity to meet students, professors and administrators to discuss further collaboration with the ACM/IAU. We believe that there is plenty of scope for collaboration such as student internships, round table discussions, student conferences, journées d’études, and there is even a student who conveyed interest in writing her M.A thesis on a topic related to The Last Right Project. We are happy, grateful and enthusiastic about this fruitful collaboration and looking forward to the next steps.”

Yumna Masarwa, Dean, The Art School, ACM/IAU

“My name is Maria Velásquez and I am an intern for the Last Rights Project. This internship is to satisfy my program requirements for my Master’s in International Relations degree which I have been completing at the American College of the Mediterranean in Aix-en-Provence, France. Since the beginning of this program, I always knew that working with an organization that deals with refugees and migration would be the ideal experience for me, as it has been one of my main passions of academic interest since my freshman year of college. This internship with Catriona and Syd has been a very interesting experience as we have been tasked with researching different EU countries and their policies regarding missing or deceased migrants. I’ve initially been working on Spain and Germany and had a vague sense of what kind of policies I’d be learning about, but just with the past few weeks of research, I’ve found that there are significant gaps in the processes of these two countries, and even within the countries themselves.

My own interest in this topic comes from my background as a Latin American migrant to the U.S. in the late 90s. Though my story ended happily, I am aware of the struggles that millions of people have faced trying follow the same path my family and myself traced when we migrated to the states. Beyond that, my own experience in my home country of Colombia and the more recent refugee crisis of Venezuela has further prompted my interest in learning about the policies regarding individuals who are lost during the migration journey. I think the work I’m doing with the Last Rights Project is a great launching point into the kind of work I hope to do for the rest of my career, and I hope to always be afforded an opportunity to give a voice and assistance to those who are forgotten, in whatever way possible.”

“My name Is Mamadou Diallo and I am currently an International Relations Masters student at the American College of the Mediterranean located in Aix-en-Provence, France. Prior to my arrival in Aix, I studied Political Science in the United States and subsequently at Science Po Toulouse. I believe it was during my time in Toulouse that my interest in international migration issues and policies began to arise. The discursive and implementation gaps which I observed gave birth to many more questions than answers. This internship with Catriona and Syd has given me the chance to explore the different policies and procedures put in place by states regarding missing and deceased migrants. Prior to being given this opportunity, I used to think that death was the great equalizer, however, it seems even in death there may be some inequalities suffered by migrants. The Last Rights Project not only allowed me to take part in a growing discussion regarding migrants’ rights but also emphasized the importance of human dignity in life as in death. Over the past few weeks, I was tasked with researching both Swedish and Danish policies on missing migrants. Surprisingly the research has exhibited countless gaps within each country's policies. Furthermore, the policies and procedures put in place to help identify missing migrants have not been codified. What makes this internship fulfilling is the fact that our aim is to point out these gaps with the hopes of bringing awareness to the problem.

My particular commitment in this project stems from my close personal linkages to the issues. As the son of Muslim/African migrants, I have experienced first-hand the difficulties associated with death and burial practices in countries that may not adequately take into account one’s beliefs. Luckily for my family, who migrated to France and the US, this has not affected us too much. It is my hope that my studies combined with the guidance and experience given to me by Syd and Catriona will allow me to help (in any way) other migrants who find themselves in similar situations.”

“My name is Emilia Santana and I am a graduate student of International Relations at the American College of the Mediterranean. This internship is a requirement to fulfill the professional development aspect of my program. My first contact with Catriona and Syd was through Professor Yumna Masarwa, who introduced us to the project. Ever since the beginning of my IR degree, I have always known that I wanted to work with refugees as I dedicated my time in undergraduate working with NGOs in the United States, Israel and France. The Last Rights Project brings an important and distinct aspect to the table, which is focused on the deaths of immigrants on their journeys to the host country. For the past month, I have been working closely with organizations located in France as well as government agents in order to gather information on the policies and guidelines implemented and followed by the host country in terms of dealing with the bodies and families. This has allowed me to explore a different side of immigration that often times is neglected.

My interest in refugees and immigration comes from personal experience of growing up in an immigrant household as my mom and her family migrated to Brazil from Lebanon in the 2000s. I think it is important to do such work and help immigrant families around Europe. I hope to keep working with similar research projects.”

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