Shipwreck in Italy: After a tragedy, no peace for dead and living


Two weeks after a boat stuffed with migrants sank off the coast of southern Italy, there is still no rest for the living and the dead, and the missing – mostly children – continue to wash up on the beaches.

The last – a girl aged five or six – was spotted on Saturday morning, bringing the death toll to 74 since the ill-fated boat broke up on the rocks outside the village of Cutro on February 26. Almost half were minors.

The local coroner’s office gave the names of many of those killed, including Torpekai Amarkhel, a 42-year-old journalist from Afghanistan who was killed with her husband and two of their three children.

Her other child, a seven-year-old daughter, is among around 30 people who are still missing and are believed to have died in the tragedy.

Amarkhel had fled Afghanistan with her family after the crackdown on women, her sister Mida, who emigrated to Rotterdam, told Unama News Radio, a United Nations project Amarkhel was involved with.

Almost two weeks after the shipwreck, bodies are still being discovered.

Among the dead was Shahida Raza, who played soccer and ice hockey for the Pakistan national team. A friend said she was traveling in the hope of securing a better future for her disabled son.

Initially, those found were given alphanumeric code numbers rather than names. When first responders found the body of 28-year-old Abiden Jafari from Afghanistan, they only identified her as KR16D45 – KR for the nearby town of Crotone, 16 because she was the 16th victim found, D for Donna or Mrs and 45, her estimated Age.

But after taking her to the morgue, they discovered she was a women’s rights activist who had been threatened by the Taliban, which likely prompted her to risk her life at sea.

The body of a six-year-old boy, first identified as KR70M6, was referred to as Hakef Taimoori by his uncle.

The uncle had a family photo showing the little boy in the same shoes he was wearing when he washed up on the beach. His parents and two-year-old brother also died in the disaster. A third brother remains among the missing.

The dead were also caught up in a fight between the Italian state and family members.

The Interior Ministry ordered all bodies from Calabria, where the coffins were displayed in an auditorium, to be transferred to Bologna’s Islamic cemetery for burial, in accordance with Italy’s protocol for irregular migrants who die trying to enter Italy.

Family members who either survived the wreck or came from other parts of Europe to claim the remains of their loved ones protested with makeshift signs and a sit-in outside the auditorium on Wednesday.

After tense negotiations, Crotone Prefecture confirmed to CNN that 25 families, mostly Afghans and Syrians, had agreed to bury their loved ones in Bologna.

All unidentified people are also buried in Bologna, along with the remains of a Turkish national who has been identified as one of the traffickers.

Pieces of wood washed up on a beach two days after the boat carrying migrants sank off the southern Italian region of Calabria.

Many of the deceased are not returned home to be buried.

The fate of the others remains an issue, but Crotone Mayor Vincenzo Voce said the Italian state will pay for all repatriations either to countries of origin or burial with family members elsewhere in Italy.

Italy’s interior ministry told CNN it could not comment on what would happen to the remains of the victims, but confirmed the current protocol does not intend to pay for the repatriation of people caught trying to enter Italy as irregular migrants , have died, but the country of origin is obliged to pay costs. The ministry said there had been no repatriations in the last ten years.

Of the 82 survivors, three Turkish nationals and one Pakistani national were arrested on human trafficking charges and eight people remain in hospital.

Most of the survivors were moved to a hotel in Crotone this week after human rights defenders led by left-wing Italian politician Franco Mari protested the conditions in which they were being held, including a shared bathroom for men and another for women near by Dormitories that only included benches and mattresses on the floor for sleeping.

Mari, who visited the reception center, tweeted that none of the survivors had sheets, towels or pillows. Twelve others were transferred to a reception center for unaccompanied minors.

Against the background of the saga about what to do with the survivors and the victims, a firestorm grows around the rescue itself.

A surveillance aircraft from the European border control Frontex had identified the accident ship one day before the sinking and alerted the Italian coast guard.

The Coast Guard said in a statement that the ship was not identified as a migrant boat and that it certainly did not appear to be in distress.

Heat-sensing surveillance images released by the Coast Guard show only one person on board the vessel was visible as they flew overhead.

Survivors told media and human rights groups that during the four-day voyage from Turkey they were locked in the hull of the ship and allowed to breathe intermittently.

Crotone prosecutors confirmed to CNN that they had opened a criminal investigation into the circumstances of the failed rescue after more than 40 human rights organizations and NGOs signed a petition demanding the release of all recordings to determine if anyone is failing to provide assistance had the boat in accordance with the law of the sea.

On Thursday, the Council of Ministers, led by Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, met on the Cutro disaster and said they would focus on attacking trafficking rings and increasing the jail sentence for traffickers to 30 years.

Protests erupted against the Italian government, which has made stopping migrant boats a priority.

Many of the government cars were thrashed with stuffed animals by protesters in Cutro, who held up signs reading “Not in my name” in protest at Italy’s blocking of migrants and refugees entering Europe.

Ministers also discussed “speeding up the asylum application process” rather than increasing the quota, which is set to take in 82,700 people entitled to asylum in 2023. So far this year, more than 17,600 people have reached Italy by sea.

In 2022, 105,131 people came to the country by sea. Depending on the country of origin, the asylum procedure often lasts between three and five years. People who do not come from asylum-producing countries but are economic migrants are returned to their countries of origin.

Italian President Sergio Mattarella said the surviving Afghan nationals would be given priority asylum. It is still unclear whether those who do not qualify will be returned to their countries of origin.

Meloni’s right-wing government has promised to crack down on human traffickers and NGO rescue ships. But the boats are coming on – hundreds of migrants have been rescued this weekend – and signs suggest they are arriving sooner than ever. This tragedy will likely not be the last.

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