Berlin Imam Abdallah Hajjir (L) directs pallbearers carrying the coffin of an unidentified Syrian refugee who died while making his way to Germany, during a funeral in a Berlin cemetery on June 19, 2015
Berlin (AFP) - With a warning that "the dead are coming", German activists staged a Berlin funeral Friday for a Syrian refugee who died on the Mediterranean, highlighting the tragedy of the thousands killed while trying to reach Europe.
An imam conducted the burial of the 60-year-old Syrian man, who the group said was ill and died aboard an overcrowded refugee boat, before dozens of guests and journalists in a central Berlin cemetery,
The ceremony was organised by the protest art group "Center for Political Beauty" which called the dead man's transport from Italy and burial part of a programme of "performance art of an unprecedented magnitude".
The controversial group has plastered Berlin with posters proclaiming that "The Dead Are Coming" while announcing a series of such burials and reburials of refugees who drowned or died in other ways, and which it says are being organised with the relatives' consent.
Critics charge the group's project is macabre, tasteless and crosses ethical lines, but the arts group argues that it is casting the spotlight on an inhumane system.
"Many speak about the accidents in the Mediterranean," said its spokesman Philipp Ruch. "They're not accidents at all, or tragedies, they are a crime.
"These crimes happen in our names," he told a press conference. "But I don't know a single person or friend who says that in his name, human beings should die on the EU's outer borders."
More than 100,000 migrants have arrived in Europe this year, according to the EU's border agency Frontex.
An estimated 800 migrants died in a shipwreck in April, the worst disaster yet in the Mediterranean in a year in which a total of 1,800 people have perished while trying to cross from Africa and the Middle East on flimsy boats.
- 'Worst nightmare' -
The imam, Abdallah Hajjir, said the funeral -- where six pallbearers lowered a white, shroud-covered coffin into the ground -- was not an "event" but "a real moment to reflect" and honour those "who were in search of a better life but found death".
"I appeal not just to politicians but to all of us, to all those present here -- actors, activists, journalists, Christians, Jews, Muslims, atheists, to all people -- that we must stop this," he said.
"I think it's important to be here," said one of the mourners, 24-year-old Laura-Sophie Helbig. "It's easy to keep a distance when they're just numbers, but more difficult when it's someone we can identify.
"Personally, I do not want to belong to a society that closes its eyes to those who need help."
On its website, the group had announced its plans with the message "the German government's worst nightmare is coming true".
"Over the next few days, refugees who drowned or starved to death at Europe's external borders on their way to a new life will be brought to Berlin. The aim is to tear down the walls surrounding Europe's sense of compassion."
The group said it had obtained the consent of the Berlin-based family of the man from Syria, whom it did not name, and who it said had been diagnosed with cancer before he died in the extreme conditions on a crowded boat.
The protest art group said it went through all legal and administrative procedures to retrieve the body, which had been in cold storage in Sicily, Italy for the past six weeks.
For Sunday the group plans a protest rally outside Chancellor Angela Merkel's office, vowing to turn the green space before the chancellery into "a memorial for the victims of Europe's military isolation".
It urges activists to come and "bring flowers, shovels, pickaxes or even jackhammers".
The group made headlines last November when it stole several cross-shaped memorial plaques for people who were killed during the Cold War while trying to cross the Berlin Wall and photographed them at EU border locations to protest against the fate of illegal immigrants.