'Our Wexford People': Remembering the victims of the Wexford Container Tragedy
‘Where sea water meets the
Spotted fields, a young Kurdish arm would never
Unhook the window handle to admit the opening
fragrance of honeysuckle. Our Wexford people
would never eat our strawberries, drink our tea.’
~ ‘Our Wexford People’ - Eamonn Wall
Beside a small artificial pond, tucked away within the Drinagh Business Park, a sparse collection of wilted flowers and rusting candleholders surrounds the base of a tarnished monument. The faded inscription is difficult to make out, worn away by exposure to the elements since it was erected to commemorate the eight Kurdish and Turkish people who were found suffocated in a freight container in Wexford Business Park on 8th December 2001. The names and homeplaces of the victims are inscribed on the plaque, committing their deaths to public memorialisation: ‘Saniye Guler (29) and her beloved children Imam (9) and Berkan (3) from Elbistan in southeast Turkey; Hasan Kalendergil and his beloved children, Zeliha (10) and Kalendar (12) from Pazarcik, Turkey; Yuksel Ucaroglu of Antep, southeast Turkey; and Mostafa Demir of Aksaray, Turkey’. Five others survived the ordeal. The container in which the victims were found had been transported from Waterford port the previous day.
A criminal trial in Belgium in 2003 was told that the victims understood from people smugglers that the container was bound for Dover, just a short two-hour trip from Zeebrugge where the victims entered the sealed box. Instead, when it finally landed at Waterford, the container had been sealed for over 100 hours with thirteen people inside. A further overnight delay before the container was eventually collected and driven to Wexford meant that the men, women and children had spent more than five days enclosed in the container before it was finally opened on a cold bright morning in Drinagh Business Park, some ten miles from Rosslare Europort.
Like so many refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants, the victims of the Wexford Container Tragedy paid dearly for the opportunity to reach western Europe. Ports are sites of mercantile, commercial and cultural exchange, and have always been spaces of clandestine activity, as well as historical points of migrant departure and return. As migration patterns shift to reflect the intense desperation of millions of people displaced by armed conflict, persecution and climate breakdown, border crossing via sea smuggling routes is an intensely dangerous option for people seeking refuge. The Missing Migrants Project records over 25,300 people drowned in the Mediterranean since 2014 while undertaking irregular migration; the true number undoubtedly far higher. While not an obvious point on the global sea smuggling map, the tragic ripple effects of unsafe migration are also felt on the Irish Sea and amongst its port communities. This small monument in Co. Wexford seeks to restore some dignity and visibility to the two men, two women and four children who died undertaking a lethal journey in the hope of better lives.