When German activists buried a female Syrian refugee in Berlin on Tuesday, none of the invited guests showed up.
All chairs -- reserved for German politicians such as Chancellor Angela Merkel -- remained empty. With their symbolic funeral and the absence of the country's political elite, the activists wanted to publicly condemn the seeming indifference with which politicians have treated the deaths of hundreds of refugees who have drowned in the Mediterranean in recent months.
"We came here to bury those people in dignity,"Abdallah Hajjir, an imam who led the ceremony, was quoted as saying by German daily newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung. "(Burying these people in dignity) is the least we can offer to them. Keeping them alive was an offer we could not make to them," he reportedly said, referring to the absence of an extensive rescue program for refugees in the Mediterranean Sea.
The female refugee who was buried Tuesday is believed to have been the mother of four children. The activists, who belong to a group called "Center for Political Beauty," have claimed that they disinterred the corpse from a grave in Italy and transferred it to Germany.
Speaking to local newspapers, the activists also said that many deceased refugees were stored in rooms with broken cooling systems under appalling conditions. Those allegations, as well as the identities of the victim buried Tuesday, could not be independently verified.
"This woman was not forced on a boat by human traffickers, but by Europe's politicians. Today, she has arrived, but she's not alive anymore," one of the activists, Stefan Pelzer, was quoted as saying by German media outlets. He also claimed that the woman's husband and three of her daughters managed to survive and do now live in Germany, but were not granted the necessary authorization to attend Tuesday's funeral because of their immigration status.
Pelzer announced that more funerals would take place in the coming days, and that the activists would lay the foundation for a symbolic "cemetery of anonymous refugees" in front of the Chancellor's office on Sunday.
Estimates of the number of refugees who were killed while trying to reach Europe vary widely. In one of the most frequently cited studies, a joint research project of European journalists recently found that at least 23,000 people had lost their lives in the past 14 years.
Despite those shocking numbers, not everyone is convinced that the activists have chosen the right measures to criticize the inaction of leading European politicians. The Süddeutsche Zeitung mused over whether the campaign was "tasteless."
Other Germans have chosen different paths to show their solidarity with African and Middle Eastern refugees. Earlier this year, two CEOs of a mid-size company in eastern Germany decided to buy a ship to patrol the Mediterranean on their own. Speaking to The Washington Post in March, one of the activists, Matthias Kuhnt, explained: "We will have inflatable life rafts and drinking water for about 500 people on board. If we come across a boat in distress, we will [send an] alarm [to] the Italian or Maltese coast guard," Kuhnt said. Refugees who are rescued by European coast guards are usually transported to camps on E.U. soil and are able to apply for asylum.
The activists associated with the "Center for Political Beauty," in contrast, have been widely known for their much more provocative strategy.
Last October, they claimed they had stolen a selection of seven crosses which were dedicated to people killed at the Berlin Wall while trying to flee East Germany. They also distributed photos showing them at border fences that are supposed to prevent Middle Eastern and North African refugees from entering European soil. Back then, the activists said that they wanted to protest "murderous exterior walls."