Italy funeral for all-female shipwreck victims

Fanny CARRIER
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Most of the graves will be marked by number only, as officials were able to identify just two of girls and women

The coffins of 26 young Nigerians lie in state in the winter sunshine in a cemetery in southern Italy, where a bishop and imam lead prayers for the all-female victims.

The Mediterranean claimed at least 60 other lives in the fateful accident off Libya 15 days ago, but their bodies sank.

Most of the new graves in Salerno, south of Naples, will be marked by number only: the autopsies showed these were girls and women aged between 13 and 20 years old, but only two of them have been identified so far.

Marian Shaka and Osato Osaro were both 20. Shaka was Christian, her husband identified her body. Osaro was Muslim and it was up to her brother to carry out the same task.

The men, both survivors, stand a little apart from the other mourners. Osato's brother, 18, left home with his sister at the start of the year and spent six nightmarish months in crisis-hit Libya, "where you get shot for nothing".

The pair then attempted the doomed crossing to Europe. "My sister was so good, my mother was very proud of her".

Beside him, Marian's husband, a bright pink cap on his head, remains silent. The ceremony is short.

- 'Not worth it' -

Young people step forward to place roses on the coffins, fighting to stop them flying away in the wind. Salerno Archbishop Luigi Moretti and Imam Abderrhmane Es Sbaa take the floor to pray.

"Young people who die at sea for nothing but a piece of bread. It's not worth it," says Samba Ba, a 48-year-old Senegalese worker who has been living in Italy for 15 years.

Nearly 3,000 men, women and children have died attempting the perilous crossing since the beginning of the year.

Post-mortem examinations show almost all the girls and women died of asphyxiation in the water when the inflatable dinghy they were travelling on sank. One girl suffered a wound to her liver. Two of the dead were pregnant.

According to the United Nations, 80 percent of young Nigerian women arriving in Italy are already in the clutches of prostitution networks, or quickly fall under their control. It wasn't clear whether that was the case here.

- Photos of the dead -

There were no state representatives at the ceremony. Italy's Interior Minister Marco Minniti has been accused by human rights campaigners and the United Nations of an "inhumane" deal with Libya to block migrants from leaving.

Salerno -- where the 26 bodies arrived along with over 400 survivors -- held a day of mourning Friday.

The city watched in horrified silence on November 5 as a seemingly endless line of plastic body bags was lowered by crane from the Spanish ship Cantabria, which picked them up while working within the EU's anti-trafficking force.

The coffins will be shared out between cemeteries in the region, just as happens in Sicily and on the tiny island of Lampedusa, where hundreds of drowned migrants have already been buried.

As well as a gravestone and a number, the city's chief magistrate also plans to put the victims' post-mortem photographs on each grave. For lack of anything better.