‘Pateras: the shame of Europe’: Barbate Port exhibits collection of abandoned migrant boats

Author: Leah Pattem

In 2018, the small port of Barbate in Cádiz hosted an eerie exhibition of disused pateras (small boats). The Town Hall’s plan was to raise public awareness of irregular immigration and the human drama for people who risk their lives to cross the Strait.

The exhibition was organised by human rights association APDHA with vessels rescued & recovered in the Gibraltar Straits. At the time, the southern coast of Spain was receiving a large number of arrivals from people fleeing conflict, persecution & economic & climate disasters.

Entitled “Pateras: The shame of Europe”, the exhibition aimed to allow visitors to feel the reality of migration for the more than 64,000 migrants who arrived in Spain, and more than 20,000 who had died in the last 30 years on their way here.

On each of the boats chosen for display, a placard was placed explaining who the boat was carrying, and the location and date of arrival. Many of the objects left behind by the passengers were kept in situ: clothing, footwear, plastic bottles cut in half to scoop out leaked water and makeshift floats. The exhibition had aimed to illustrate the story of those who dreamed of seeking a better world for themselves and their families.

Five years on, with many more boats added to the accidental collection, the small-boat exhibition is now closed to the public. The bright blue paint is peeling, the Arabic inscribed on the bows is bleaching, and the placards have either faded or fallen off.

As immigration controls have tightened in the Spanish coast of the Mediterranean, migration has shifted towards the Canary Islands. And the small-boat exhibition in Barbate is, once again, a small-boat cemetery.


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