PALERMO, ITALY - 26 SEPTEMBER 2016: A freezer containing bone samples of migrants who died in shipwrecks are seen here in the laboratory of the Department of Forencic Medicine at the Policlino Hospital in Palermo, Italy, on September 26th 2016. Samples of DNA and bones are taken after bodies of migrants are recovered at sea for forensic examination that will lead to their identification. The analysis of femur sections determines the age range of the victims.
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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