24 May Fatmata
Fatmata is dead. She was shot, by police, in North Macedonia on Wednesday, 19th April 2023. She had just crossed the border from Greece, the country that had denied her asylum, rendering her invisible, a non person. But she was a person. She was warm, enthusiastic and joyful. She was 23 years old.
If you didn’t know, you would never have guessed she lived in a refugee camp. She was movingly full of life: always willing to share her strength and energy. She would dance and sing “to the top of her voice”, as her sister Bintia put it. Imagine her like this, because it is the way we will remember her. She was part of the Second Tree community.
She was also very, very in love with her husband, Abu Bakar. They had known each other since they were kids, and often called one another “my everything”. They were so visibly into each other that often we would jokingly comment: “I hope I find someone that loves me like that!”. Two months before being killed, Fatmata told Abu Bakar that she was pregnant. They didn’t have papers or money, so they never had a test. He still doesn’t know if their first child died with his wife.
Abu Bakar was with Fatmata when she was shot. She shouted his name. Then he begged for help. The video of Abu Bakar hugging Fatmata, while she is on the floor, dying of a gunshot wound – crying her name – is emptying.
He was then handcuffed, driven several hours away, held in detention for a day without news of his wife. He was later offered to be dropped at the border, to move on to Serbia. He wanted to stay: “I want justice for Fatmata”, he said.
We have felt the call for “Justice for Fatmata” powerfully from her wonderful family, through calls full of tears and grief and love. Mariatu, Bintia, Fatmata, Yankare, Ibrahim, all the others: you have been an example of dignity and strength in unthinkable circumstances. Initially, they felt shocked and abandoned, the killing of their Fatmata was completely forgotten, without a name or a face. Now people from all over the world know Fatmata, and are writing about her. Maybe her unjust death can at least prevent this pain from being inflicted on another family?
Abu Bakar chose the picture that accompanies this blog post. He took it when they left, as a memory to keep. Right after taking it, Fatmata told him: “Now all doors seem closed, but another door will open for us. The future will be good”.
Now, Abu Bakar is determined to remain in North Macedonia to fight for justice. Our team is with him, fighting by his side. We are contacting local and international institutions to ensure the case is under scrutiny, and to find help with the repatriation of Fatmata’s body.
Abu Bakar has two new lawyers, from the good people at Macedonian Young Lawyers Association (MYLA) who are working on a legal battle for the authorities to investigate the crime. The Ministry of Interior says the policeman who killed Fatmata fired after a scuffle, but Abu Bakar and other witnesses told us this is not true.
The first time we asked Abu Bakar what he needed the most, he said: “I want the world to know”. This is the same wish expressed to us by Fatmata’s family–she was the youngest of five brothers and sisters. In the news, you will only read about “a young migrant” who was killed by the police, but the people who loved Fatmata want everyone to know that behind that empty label there is a real person; a precious, unique character.
We want to keep everyone’s eyes on the case. This is vital for Abu Bakar and Fatmata’s family. They keep telling us: “We want the truth about Fatmata’s killing to be established and known by the world. It is the only thing that could give us some peace, or at least relief.”
Mariatu, Fatmata’s mother, asked us, as she was asking the world: “please, please don’t forget her”.
Please, please let’s not forget her.