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Italy buries 26 ‘drowned’ Nigerian women, most without a name


A woman lays flowers on the coffins of 26 teenage migrant girls found dead in the Mediterranean in early November, during the inter religious funeral service at the cemetery of Salerno, southern Italy, on November 17, 2017. The bodies of the victims were found floating in the water by a Spanish military ship and brought to Italy on November 3 after two separate rescue operations. Eliano IMPERATO / AFP

The 26 young Nigerian women, who drowned during a migrant crossing from Libya, were honoured yesterday with an interfaith funeral, closing out a gruesome new chapter in the years-long tragedy of desperate migrants trying to reach Europe and dying along the way.

To date, only two of the 26 women, whose bodies were recovered on November 3 by Spanish rescue ships, have been identified. They are Marian Shaka, a Muslim, and Osato Osara, a Christian.

According to Foxnews, prosecutors are working to contact relatives of the others, using phone numbers the women had hidden in their clothes before setting off from Libya’s lawless shores.


So far, investigators have reached family members of three of them, who were able to provide general descriptions of their girls and confirmed they hadn’t heard from them.

Autopsies showed all but one drowned. The other had internal bleeding from a ruptured liver as a result of blunt trauma before falling in the water. None bore signs of recent physical or sexual abuse, prosecutors said in a statement yesterday.

Two of the women were pregnant.

Overall, 100 people were believed to have drowned in the crossing, with the other bodies lost at sea. Sixty-four survived. They had all set off aboard a blue rubber raft.

Yesterday, 26 wooden coffins were laid out in a circle in the middle of Salerno’s cemetery for the interfaith funeral ceremony.

There was no indication that the Nigerian Embassy or Consulate sent a representative.

Salerno Archbishop Luigi Moretti told the crowd that the women “lost their lives as they were seeking freedom and a better life.

“And we give the last farewell not only to the 26 girls, but also to two lives that these girls were carrying in their wombs.”

Imam Abderrhmane Es Sbaa offered a prayer before he and Moretti blessed the coffins, with Moretti sprinkling holy water on them.

The crowd silently passed by, placing white roses on each one.

Overall this year, nearly 168,000 migrants have arrived in Italy, a 32 per cent decline over last year, thanks to a deal Italy struck with the Libyan government and its militias to curb the exodus.

The United Nations (UN) refugee agency estimates around 3,000 have died trying, though the number is likely much higher, given the unknown number of shipwrecks that are never reported.

It is not clear whether the 26 women were part of the huge human trafficking business that brings thousands of Nigerian women to Italy every year to work as prostitutes.

The past three years has seen a 600 per cent increase in potential sex trafficking victims arriving in Italy, most of them from Nigeria, according to the International Organisation for Migrants (IOM).

IOM statistics show 1,454 girls arrived from Nigeria in 2014 and the number soared to 11,009 last year.

Alessandra Galatro, who works to help young Nigerian women escape prostitution, came to the funeral with a group of Nigerian girls, who stood at a distance during the ceremony, then shyly approached the coffins at the end, gently touching them one by one.

“It is not easy for them, because they have all made that crossing, that journey.

“The cruelty that these women faced in Libya, they all experienced,” Galatro said.

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