Shifting sands


Missing © John MacPherson

Missing © John MacPherson


A very moving article on the BBC News site about identification of migrants who have died in the Sonoran Desert.

It’s the job of a forensics team in Arizona to identify the bodies of migrants found in the desert.

Anthropologist Robin Reineke describes how she pieces together the sad jigsaw puzzle of personal attributes and belongings………..

“Some of the items have unspoken stories.

There was a young kid – he was probably only 15 or 16 years old – and the soles of his shoes were just completely worn off. He had been carrying one orange paper flower.

I remember a man who had a small dead hummingbird in his pocket. I know that for a lot of indigenous North American peoples hummingbirds hold a sacred significance – they represent hope and love and they’re a powerful protective symbol.”

“Because of the highly decomposed nature of the bodies, the calls I make are never as simple as, “I am sorry to inform you…” Instead, it’s the beginning of a process that could take months. It unfolds as a kind of a negotiation between the scientists and the families. Both sides have the same goal- to find the missing person.

But for the scientists, the problem is an unidentified dead body, whereas for the families, the problem is a missing living person. These realities pull them in opposite directions.”

“Immigrants are being blamed for a lot at the moment – they’re being scapegoated. I feel that these people were, by and large, good, hard-working people that did not mean any harm. By attempting the crossing they were trying to do the very best for their families.

I would definitely do the same thing.”

More articles from John Macpherson

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