The remains of 26 Nigerian women believed to be migrants have been recovered from a Spanish warship in the Italian coast city of Salerno.
A report by the British Broadcasting Corporation on Monday said a Spanish warship, Cantabria, which docked in the city, was found to be carrying 375 rescued migrants and the dead women.
According to the report, 23 of the dead women were on a rubber boat with 64 other people. It also quoted Italian media report that most of them were between the ages of 14 and 18. UNHCR spokesman, Marco Rotunno, said the 26 dead were involved in a shipwreck off Libya.
Most of the 375 survivors brought to Salerno were sub-Saharan Africans from Nigeria, Senegal, Ghana, The Gambia and Sudan, the daily La Repubblica reports. Among them were 90 women – eight of them pregnant – and 52 children. There were also some Libyan men and women on board.
The BBC said, “People-smuggling gangs charge each migrant about $6,000 to get to Italy, $4,000 of which is for the trans-Saharan journey to Libya, according to the Italian aid group L’Abbraccio. Many migrants have reported violence, including torture and sexual abuse by the gangs.
“Italian prosecutors are investigating the deaths of 26 Nigerian women – most of them teenagers – whose bodies were recovered at sea,” the newspaper reported.
“There are suspicions that they may have been sexually abused and murdered as they attempted to cross the Mediterranean. Five migrants are being questioned in the southern port of Salerno.”
Reacting to the development, some notable organisations and individual Nigerians blamed the Federal Government, its agencies and the harsh economic situation in the country for the tragedy.
The Centre for Anti-Corruption and Open Leadership (CACOL), said the Federal and state governments must tackle the rising rate of unemployment in the country to curb the menace of human trafficking.
The CACOL Director, Debo Adeniran, said, “The problems of illegal migration and trafficking are an accumulated issue. We have a high population of children and youths in this country and we are not planning for their future. Workplaces are actually winding up and no new jobs are springing up. This is why people want to leave and look for the proverbial ‘greener pastures.’
A Lagos-based lawyer, Mr Monday Ubani, also blamed illegal migration on economic hardship.
“I don’t think there is any policy in place towards checking this kind of illegal migration; we see a lot of people perishing on the sea trying to migrate to Europe, to the so-called greener pastures and I don’t think there is any clear policy in place to discourage people. I know that Mrs. Abike Dabiri-Erewa has been in charge, trying to discourage Nigerians from such a fatalistic journey. But I don’t think there is a government structure or policy in place to ensure that Nigerians don’t embark on a journey like this,” Ubani said.
Responding to the incident, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Foreign Affairs and Diaspora Matters, Abike Dabiri-Erewa, expressed government’s condolences to those who lost loved ones in the tragedy.
She also appealed to Nigerian youths to stop illegal migration through the Mediterranean or the desert; revealing that government’s plans to unveil a comprehensive policy document to curb illegal migration.
She revealed that no fewer than 5,000 Nigerians who emigrated illegally had been brought back to the country in the last six months.
Dabiri-Erewa said, “Fatalities are increasing on the Mediterranean because the smugglers are using smaller boats. I just returned from a summit in Addis-Ababa where we are coming up with a comprehensive irregular migration document. By July next year, a formal document would be unveiled. I hope it would assist in checking the sad trends.”
Kola Tella with agency reports