PALERMO, ITALY - 11 NOVEMBER 2016: An operator of the Scientific Police of Palermo extracts a DNA sample in the laboratory of the Scientific Police in Palermo, Italy, on November 11th 2016. After receiving the corpses of migrants who died in shipwrecks, coroners and operators of the Scientific Police and of the Department of Legal Medicine of the University of Palermo prepare a report of post-mortem data consisting of identifying information, including height, sex and approximate age. Any tattoos, scars, birthmarks or other distinguishing characteristics should be noted and DNA and bone samples taken as well as dental records. All of this information would then be given to a public prosecutor’s office to begin an investigation.
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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