Grimy watches, bracelets, pho­tos: ev­i­dence of boat mi­grant tragedies

Over 3,500 mi­grants es­ti­mated to have died in 2015

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

PALERMO: Sandy and grimy, the watches, cell phones, fam­ily pho­tos, $100 bills, and pass­ports from Pak­istan, Syria and Su­dan are the tat­tered pos­ses­sions of mi­grants who died at sea. They of­fer a glimpse into the lives of a few of the 3,500 peo­ple who have died this year cross­ing the Mediter­ranean, des­per­ate to reach Europe. Ital­ian homi­cide po­lice re­moved the items from the corpses of about 90 men, women and in­fants who per­ished aboard three dif­fer­ent boats this sum­mer. They pre­served the per­sonal ef­fects-a beaded neck­lace, re­li­gious items both Chris­tian and Mus­lim, a wed­ding pic­ture, an Is­tan­bul bus pass-as po­ten­tial ev­i­dence to use in court against their smug­glers, and to iden­tify the corpses.

“We treat th­ese cases as mur­der cases,” said Gio­vanni Drago, a long­time mem­ber of Palermo’s homi­cide squad which gave Reuters per­mis­sion to pho­to­graph the pos­ses­sions. Many of the corpses brought to Palermo had been re­moved from be­low the deck of a wooden fish­ing boat. Jammed to­gether next to the mo­tor, the mi­grants suf­fo­cated, au­top­sies re­vealed. The Africa-Italy route is the dead­li­est, record­ing more than 80 per­cent of the to­tal Mediter­ranean mi­grant deaths in 2015. Italy has taken in more than 140,000 peo­ple amid the big­gest im­mi­gra­tion cri­sis Europe has seen since World War Two.

Es­cap­ing war, per­se­cu­tion or se­vere poverty, mi­grants pay from $1,200 to $1,600 to smug­glers, ac­cord­ing to Si­cil­ian pros­e­cu­tors, in a gam­ble to reach Europe in un­sea­wor­thy boats over­loaded to max­i­mize profit. Af­ter Greek of­fi­cials said one of the Paris sui­cide bombers ar­rived on a mi­grant boat from Tur­key, an in­creas­ing num­ber of Euro­pean Union coun­tries have balked at tak­ing in more asy­lum seek­ers, and some 25 US gov­er­nors have vowed to re­sist host­ing Syr­ian refugees.

But Ital­ian au­thor­i­ties said that the sea route prob­a­bly is too risky for well-funded and or­ga­nized Is­lamist groups who want to ef­fi­ciently sneak mil­i­tants into Europe. And Ital­ian po­lice, who speak to sur­vivors dur­ing their in­ves­ti­ga­tions, said the mi­grants they have met are reg­u­lar peo­ple, not ex­trem­ists. “They are sim­ply peo­ple in search of a bet­ter life,” Drago said. “They are just like us. They have the same de­sires and needs.”

‘My home was not safe’ Al­pha Se­say, a 36-year-old man born in Sierra Leone, and his two-year-old daugh­ter Pros­perin sur­vived a cross­ing in July, but his 30-year-old wife, Amanda, died. They were flee­ing Tripoli, Libya, where he had lived for al­most six years, af­ter he said he was stabbed in the chest in his home for be­ing a Chris­tian. “I left Libya be­cause I had nowhere to go. My home was not safe,” Se­say said. He de­scribed how he was crammed by smug­glers onto an over­loaded rub­ber boat which be­gan to de­flate and take on wa­ter af­ter about nine hours at sea. In charge of the ves­sel were two men, a Gam­bian and a Sene­galese. “They beat peo­ple in­side the boat be­cause...some peo­ple were stand­ing up,” out of fear, Se­say said. When a res­cue ves­sel ar­rived it was too late for his wife, who Se­say found ly­ing dead. She had been beaten by the two men, he said. Sev­eral oth­ers died on the same boat, in­clud­ing Se­say’s adult niece. — Reuters

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