We are the winners of the European Press Prize Special Award 2024

Our cross-border team investigation on unmarked graves along Europe’s borders won this year’s European Press Prize Special Award.

Firstly, I want to thank Abdallah Tayeb for sharing his story of his cousin, Oussama, with me. His collaboration with me shaped the entire narrative of the Spain story and even led me to uncovering a case of exploitation by an NGO in Almería. He told me:

From feeling powerless in the face of a corrupt administration to having this story told worldwide and now recognised as the best work in Europe – it’s a beautiful trajectory.

In collaboration with numerous media outlets, our team of eight independent journalists based in Spain, Italy, Greece, the Balkans and Germany published on 8 December in over 22 media outlets in nine countries and in eight languages. The impact of our work has been enormous and continues to influence new investigations and reporting across Europe and the UK. Our investigation headlined on the Guardian Europe website for most of a full day.

Headlining story in Guardian Europe on 8 December 2023

The Border Graves Investigation team spent 10 months last year investigating what happens to migrants who die en route to Europe. Through physically visiting dozens of cemeteries along EU borders, we discovered a minimum of 1015 unmarked graves belonging to migrants who were never identified before being buried. We found EU protocol for the right to identification is being systematically broken due to underfunding by the EU to border countries such as Spain.

Unmarked mass grave in Barbate cemetery
Unmarked mass grave in Barbáte, June 2023 © Leah Pattem

This year so far, a record 5,054 people have died en route to Spain’s Canary Islands. This Atlantic crossing is the deadliest border in the world and continues claiming lives at sea every 45 minutes. Our award-winning investigation has proven that the EU systematically underfunds local authorities in dealing with the deceased. As such, I independently investigated the exploitation of families, which has become rife, and exposed a corrupt network of profiteering individuals, including public servants.

Migrants rights protest, June 2023 Madrid © Leah Pattem

I hope that winning the European Press Prize Special Award 2024 goes some way in recognising the importance of my work. To all migration journalists, please take what I’ve found and keep pushing forward. Stand on my shoulders and expose the truth.

Thank you to the dozens of families, activists, mayors, politicians and cemetery keepers who spoke to us, both on- and off-record, and to the European Press Prize team for recognising our contribution to outstanding journalism in Europe. And finally, thank you to all my friends, family, colleagues and my audience of Madrid No Frills – you – who always believed in me. I’m now officially an award-winning journalist.

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