Coffins of 26 migrants who drowned in the Mediterranean before their funeral in Salerno, Italy, in November 2017 | Photo: ANSA
Coffins of 26 migrants who drowned in the Mediterranean before their funeral in Salerno, Italy, in November 2017 | Photo: ANSA

A group of refugees has discovered that some victims of the October 2013 shipwreck off Lampedusa were moved from their tombs to a mass grave. This has drawn criticism from activists, and local authorities have launched an investigation into what happened.

Some of the victims of the October 2013 Lampedusa shipwreck -- in which 368 migrants and refugees died -- were "evicted" from their tombs in the cemetery of Sciacca, in the southern Italian region of Sicily, and buried in a mass grave, according to various Italian media reports.

Refugees found empty graves

The discovery was made by four Eritrean refugees who travelled to Sicily from Sweden to pay their respects to relatives and friends who died in the shipwreck. The refugees found the graves empty. A few days prior, two Eritrean women who visited from Switzerland also looked in vain for their sister's grave.

The refugees then asked local authorities to clarify the situation.

According to the municipality, the remains of the victims were moved to a mass grave because they belonged to people "who have never been identified" and were only given a number as identification.

Moving shipwreck victims 'unacceptable'

But this account has been disputed by Father Mussie Zerai, an Eritrean priest and an activist for the rights of migrants and refugees. According to Zerai, "the extraordinary commissioner of the government for missing people has a complete map of shipwrecks' victims, and identification procedures of single people are still ongoing, also through specific DNA tests, with the objective of associating a name to each number, guaranteeing proper burial, something pledged by the Italian State."

Zerai said that "it is unacceptable to move bodies to a mass grave" and that "an explanation is necessary".

Investigation launched

The mayor of Sciacca, Francesca Valenti, said that she was surprised to hear about the reburials. She reportedly ordered an internal investigation to determine who was responsible for the move.

Meanwhile, local sources said the move was ordered by a municipal office at the order of judicial authorities due to a shortage of graves.

Father Mussie Zerai said that these authorities "should have known that these graves could not be emptied and the bodies moved. Italy made a commitment which it can't dodge in this way, it is a matter of compassion."


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