Photo by Antonio Siciliano, Tunis, 2019

Tunisia: Missing Migrants of the Mediterranean

Co-PIs: Odessa Gonzalez Benson and Vadim Besprozvany

Collaborating Organizations:

Tunisia-based La Terre Pour Tous (The Earth For All)

Student Researchers:
Yessine Baalouche, Undergraduate Student
Suzana Haidar, MSW Student
Antonio Siciliano, MSW Alumnus
Bader AlBader, PhD Student in Architecture


  • U-M National Center for Institutional Diversity
  • U-M School of Social Work
  • Arts Engine
  • UMSI

Research Project Description:

With an on-campus exhibit and online platform and in partnership with a Tunisia-based migrant advocacy organization, this study presents the voice of missing migrants of the Mediterranean. Seeking safe and dignified lives, migrants crossed from Tunisia and other MENA countries into Italy and Europe via the Mediterranean Sea route in recent years. Many do not live to reach their destination. The Italian government and the international community manage rehousing, or burial, of migrants without due process; deaths are tallied as mere statistics and bodies are not identified nor given due respect. Meanwhile, behind each missing person is family, friend, community.

This research explores how families navigate that space that toggles between loss and hope, and what it means to pursue action and advocacy, as families search for the loved ones and search for answers. First, we discuss an art exhibit, featuring information and data visualization works created by university students. Second, we discuss an online platform, that draws from interviews, archival research and exhibit materials. The site aspires to transform data into a tool to motivate policy change and generate awareness and action; and to create an accessible platform for advocacy and validation. The two projects aims to counter narratives that depict missing migrants as statistics, and to humanize the migrant, as beloved to family, friends and community. Our interdisciplinary, transnational team, comprised of faculty, students and activists, aims to bring social justice and advocacy together with design and technology into a meaningful synthesis in public scholarship.


(R&R) Albader, B., Gonzalez Benson, O., Besprozvany, V., Godin, E., *Siciliano, A. & Soltani, I. Families of missing migrants as popular myth (-making) agents. Annals of the American Association of Geographers.

Gonzalez Benson, O., Besprozvany, V., Albader, B., Godin, E., *Siciliano, A. & Soltani, I. (In Press). Scale and design through Action Research: Visualizing loss and agency with the families of missing migrants of the Mediterranean: Action Research.

Gonzalez Benson, O. & *Siciliano, A. (2021). A rights-based framework in social work field education and international development work: Insights from a Global Independent Study in Tunisia. Journal of Human Rights and Social Work, 6, 183-192.

Gonzalez Benson, O., Besprozvany, V., Godin, E., *Siciliano, *Albader, B. & Soltani, I. (2021). Missing Migrants of the Mediterranean. Forced Migration Review, 66.

Soltani, I., Gonzalez Benson, O., Besprozvany, V., Godin, E., & *Albader, B. (2021). Missing Migrants of the Mediterranean. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and Mixed Migration Center. Conference Proceedings, February 2021.

Conference Presentations:

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Mixed Migration Center Policy Workshop, Feb 2021, virtual

Gonzalez Benson, O., et al. Families of Missing Migrants: Loss, action, hope

American Association of Geographers, Denver, CO, Apr 2020

Albader, B., Gonzalez Benson, O., Soltani, I., Godin, E. & Siciliano, A. At a Loss at the Loss at Sea: The missing migrants of the Mediterranean and the (Bermuda) triangle of space, communication, and justice.

About the Exhibit: Missing Migrants of the Mediterranean

February 7, 2020–March 25, 2020
Weiser Hall International Institute Gallery
500 Church St, Ann Arbor, MI 48109

The University of Michigan’s School of Social Work, School of Information, Taubman College of Urban Planning and Architecture, and Tunisia-based The Association La Terre Pour Tout are honored to present Missing Migrants of the Mediterranean. This exhibition shares stories,hopes, and advocacy of families of ‘missing migrants’, using graphic documentation and data visualization works created by students at the School of Information.

In Fall 2018, students in “Advanced Topics in Visual Communication and Graphic Design,” under the instruction of Vadim Besprozvany and Elena Godin, narrated these families’ stories through a set of posters which begin to raise awareness of this issue. Students continued to explore methods of visual storytelling with somber data from The Missing Migrants project, an initiative which tracks the deaths of migrants, refugees, and asylum-seekers who have gone missing around the world.

In addition to showcasing student work, the exhibition makes use of sound and touch in the hope of eliciting both cognitive and affective apprehension. We hope that the public, through this glimpse of an unimaginable plight, begins to relate to the yearning of those who simply want to be reunited with their lost loved ones.

The families’ images and narratives are courtesy of our partner, La Terre, a migrant advocacy organization that works to generate awareness and action about the plight and injustices faced by refugees and migrants.

Exhibition Credits

The team bringing you Missing Migrants of the Mediterranean comprises an interdisciplinary, transnational set of faculty, students, and activists who hope to synthesize social justice, advocacy, design, and technology in the form of public scholarship. As design and arts-based advocacy, this project is led by Dr Vadim Besprozvany and Elena Godin of the School of Information. As action research, this project is led by Dr Odessa Gonzalez Benson of the U-M School of Social Work. This project is funded by the U-M National Center for Institutional Diversity, School of Social Work, ArtsEngine, the School of Information Diversity Committee, Center for Middle Eastern and North African Studies, and the Center for European Studies.

The Opening Reception to the Exhibit: Friday February 7, 2020. Speakers: Dr Matthew Stiffler, Research & Content Director of the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn and Lecturer of U-M LSA, and Imed Soltani of La Terre Pour Tout (The Earth For All), our Tunisia-based partner organization, for live discussion/Q&A to share more about his migrant advocacy work. There will also be a presentation of posters by selected students.

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