SIRACUSA, ITALY - 8 NOVEMBER 2016: Roberto Gibilisco (60) measures the marble that will be used for the gravestone of Musaab Shabani, a victim of the August 24th 2014 shipwreck, here at the Gibilisco marble-worker's workshop in Siracusa, Italy, on November 8th 2016.
Musaab Shabani was buried in the cemetery of Sortino, marked by a gravestone with the number nine because at the time he hadn't been identified yet. He was later identified by his brother Abd thanks to the efforts of policeman Angelo Milazzo. Since then, Abd has arranged to have a gravestone made bearing his brother’s name and date and place of birth as well as a religious inscription in Arabic, bringing a final bit of closure to this tragic chapter.
On August 24th 2014, a boat carrying more than 400 migrants, departed from the coasts of Libya in the attempt to reach Italy, capsized in international waters in the Mediterranean Sea. Rescuers of the Italian Navy saved 352 people, and recovered 24 lifeless bodies.
Following the events of the Arab Spring in 2011, including Gaddafi’s death and Libya’s plunge towards chaos, clandestine crossings skyrocketed, as did the number of people drowning. In 2014 over 170,000 arrived in Italy and since then more than 10,000 perished in the Mediterranean sea.
Only a fraction of these bodies have ever been recovered, and, of the ones that have, the majority remain unidentified. In Sicily alone there are more than 1,500 graves of anonymous refugees and migrants–people from Syria and other war torn countries–who have drowned in shipwrecks at sea.
Despite the decades long persistence of the problem, Italy has yet to develop a comprehensive approach to handling the bodies of shipwreck victims. Many pieces of a functional body identification system are in place, but its overall effectiveness is crippled by a lack of coordination between the various local agencies involved and national authorities.
- ©2016 Gianni Cipriano
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