There is still no peace for the living or the dead two weeks after a boat carrying migrants capsized off the coast of southern Italy. The missing, mostly children, continue to wash up on the beaches.
The most recent victim, a girl between the ages of five and six, was found on Saturday morning, bringing the death toll since the fateful boat capsized on the rocks off the village of Cutro on February 26 to 74. The majority were minors.
Many of the deceased were identified by the local coroner, including Torpekai Amarkhel, an Afghan woman of 42 years old who was killed alongside her husband and two of their three children.
Her other child, a seven-year-old daughter, is one of the approximately 30 people from the tragedy who are still missing and presumed dead.
Mida, Amarkhel’s emigrant sister, told Unama News radio, a United Nations project in which Amarkhel was involved, that Amarkhel had fled Afghanistan with her family following the crackdown on women.
Shahida Raza, a Pakistani national team hockey and football player, was also among the dead. A friend claimed that she was traveling with the intention of providing her disabled son with a better future.
At first, the people who were found were given alphanumeric code numbers instead of names. The only name that was given to Abiden Jafari, a 28-year-old Afghan woman, when she was found dead was KR16D45. KR stands for Crotone, Italy; D stands for donna, or woman; and 45 is her estimated age.
But when they took her to the morgue, they found out that she was an activist for women’s rights who had been threatened by the Taliban, which probably made her risk her life at sea.
The body of a six-year-old kid, first recognized as KR70M6, was named by his uncle as Hakef Taimoori.
The young boy was seen in a family photo wearing the same shoes as when he washed up on the beach, according to the uncle. The disaster also claimed the lives of his two-year-old brother and parents. There is still a third brother among the missing.
No return home for the dead
The family members of the deceased have also been involved in a conflict with the Italian government.
In accordance with Italy’s protocol for irregular migrants who die attempting to enter Italy, the Interior Ministry ordered that all bodies be transferred to the Islamic cemetery of Bologna for burial from Calabria, where the caskets had been displayed in an auditorium.
On Wednesday, impromptu signs and a sit-in protested in front of the auditorium by family members who either escaped the disaster or traveled from other parts of Europe to claim their loved ones’ remains.
The Prefecture of Crotone told CNN that 25 families, mainly Afghan and Syrian, agreed to have their loved ones buried in Bologna after a heated negotiation.
Along with the remains of a Turkish national who has been identified as one of the human traffickers, all those who have not been identified will also be buried in Bologna.
The remaining people’s fate is still up for discussion, but Crotone Mayor Vincenzo Voce said that the Italian government would pay for them to be returned to their home countries or buried with family members in other parts of Italy.
CNN was informed by the Italian Interior Ministry that it could not comment on what would happen to the victims’ remains. However, the ministry confirmed that current practice mandates that the country of origin bear the costs, rather than paying for the repatriation of anyone who died while attempting to enter Italy as an irregular migrant. According to the ministry, no repatriations have occurred in the past ten years.
Eight people are still in the hospital, and three Turkish citizens and one Pakistani citizen have been arrested for human trafficking out of the 82 survivors.
Human rights advocates led by Italian leftist politician Franco Mari protested the conditions in which the survivors were being held, which included sleeping quarters with only benches and mattresses on the floor for sleeping and a shared bathroom for men and women. This week, the majority of the survivors were moved to a hotel in Crotone.
Mari tweeted after visiting the reception center that none of the survivors had pillows, towels, or sheets. Twelve others were relocated to an unaccompanied minors’ reception center.
Questions over rescue
A growing controversy regarding the rescue itself is taking place in the background of the drama surrounding the decision regarding the survivors and the victims.
The day before the unfortunate vessel went down, a surveillance plane operated by Frontex, a European border control organization, recognized it and notified the Italian Coast Guard.
In a statement, the Coast Guard said that the boat did not appear to be in trouble and had not been identified as a migrant boat.
The Coast Guard’s heat-sensing surveillance images show that when they flew over the ship, only one person was visible.
During the four-day trip from Turkey, survivors told the media and human rights groups that they were kept in the ship’s hull and allowed to get out at regular intervals.
After more than 40 human rights organizations and non-governmental organizations signed a petition demanding that all records be made public to determine if anyone failed to provide assistance to the boat in accordance with maritime law, the Crotone public prosecutor’s office confirmed to CNN that it had opened a criminal investigation into the circumstances of the failed rescue.
The Council of Ministers, led by Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, met on Thursday to discuss the disaster in Cutro. During the meeting, they stated that they would concentrate on pursuing trafficking rings and raising the maximum sentence for human traffickers to 30 years.
Protesters in Cutro pelted the government vehicles with stuffed animals and held signs that read “not in my name” to express their opposition to preventing migrants and refugees from entering Europe through Italy.
Instead of increasing the quota, which stands at accepting 82,700 migrants who qualify for asylum in 2023, the ministers also discussed “speeding up the mechanism for applying for asylum.” More than 17,600 people have traveled by sea to Italy thus far this year.
105,131 people arrived in the country by sea in 2022. Depending on the country of origin, the process of applying for asylum typically takes between three and five years. Economic migrants who are not from countries that provide asylum are repatriated to their home countries.
The Afghan citizens who survived, according to Italian President Sergio Mattarella, will be given priority when applying for asylum. It is still unknown whether those who do not qualify will be returned to their home nations.
Meloni’s right-inclining government has promised to cinch down on human dealers and NGO salvage vessels. However, the boats keep coming—this weekend, hundreds of migrants were rescued—and there are indications that they are arriving earlier than ever before. It’s unlikely that this tragedy will be the last.