Two men, one of them an Egyptian and the other a Libyan, have been arrested and charged in Italy as investigators look into the deaths of 26 Nigerian women and girls, who are suspected to have been murdered while attempting to cross the Mediterranean.
This is as Federal Government confirmed the incident, while describing their death as “monumental loss and a sad moment for our country”
It commiserated with their families.
The bodies of the women were brought to the southern Italian port of Salerno by the Spanish ship Cantabria on Sunday, and prosecutors opened an investigation over suspicions that the women, some as young as 14, may have been abused and killed
The bodies were recovered by Cantabria, which works as part of the EU’s Sophia anti-trafficking operation, from two separate shipwrecks – 23 from one and three from the other. Fifty-three people are believed to be missing.
The men arrested have been named as Al Mabrouc Wisam Harar, from Libya, and Egyptian Mohamed Ali Al Bouzid.
The pair are believed to have skippered one of the boats. They were identified by survivors who were among the 375 brought to Salerno by Cantabria.
An autopsy on the bodies should be completed over the next week. Salerno prefect Salvatore Malfi told the Italian press that the women had been travelling alongside men and when the vessels sank, “unfortunately, the women suffered the worst of it.”
But in response to concerns that the women were being trafficked for the flesh trade, he added: “Trafficking routes are different, with different dynamics used. Loading women on to a boat is too risky for the traffickers, as they could risk losing all of their ‘goods’ – as they like to call them – in one fell swoop.”
Marco Rotunno, an Italy spokesman for the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), said his colleagues were at the port in Salerno when the bodies were brought in.
“It was a very tough experience,” he said. “One lady from Nigeria lost all her three children.” He added that 90% of migrant women arrive with bruises and other signs of violence.
“It’s very rare to find a woman who hasn’t been abused, only in exceptional cases, maybe when they are travelling with their husband. But also women travelling alone with their children have been abused.”
Most of the survivors were either Nigerian or from other sub-Saharan countries including Ghana, Sudan and Senegal.
The survivors brought to Tripoli also included Nigerians and Senegalese. “I wanted to reach Italy. I don’t know what to do now,” said Dora Omoruyi, a 23-year old arts student from Benin, Edo state, known as hub for human traffickers to smuggle women to Italy where they often end up as ‘flesh hawkers’.
“I see no future in Nigeria, there are no jobs,” she said, standing next to a group of weeping Nigerian survivors.
The survivors were among over 2,560 migrants saved over four days. People still continue to attempt the crossing despite a pact between Italy and Libya to stem the flow, which led to a drop in arrivals by almost 70% since the summer, according to figures released last week by Italy’s Interior Ministry.
Meanwhile, the Federal Government said it had received reliable report from its mission in Rome concerning the 26 suspected Nigerian migrants whose bodies were discovered in the Mediterranean on Sunday.
A statement from the Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs signed by the spokesperson, Tope Elias-Fatile, on Wednesday said the Federal Government had been in touch with the mission.
The mission confirmed that the 26 migrants, all females were recovered from the Mediterranean by a Spanish Warship, Cantabria.
“The report indicates that a Spanish Warship, Cantabria, brought the remains of the migrants to Southern Italian Port of Salerno.
“The Italian security officials who made this discovery are yet to confirm if they were purposely killed and why all who died were female.’’
It also added that the Italian Police Chief in Salerno had inaugurated an investigation into the cause of their death to ascertain if they were either tortured or sexually assaulted.
The government further described the incident as a “monumental loss and a sad moment for our country” and added that more investigations were being conducted.
“Federal Government wishes to commiserate with the families of the victims,” it added.