Italian forensics experts to identify migrant dead

A crack team of Italian forensics experts will help the hundreds of migrants killed in a 2015 shipwreck, the interior ministry said Friday, as the navy prepares to recover the bodies from the bottom of the Mediterranean.

Italian forensics experts to identify migrant dead
Mohammed Ali Malek (R), the alleged captain of the boat, after being pulled from the water. Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP
Over 700 people drowned last April when their boat sank after a collision at sea during the crossing from north Africa. The navy has so far recovered 169 bodies from near the wreck, which lies 380 metres (around 1,245 feet) down off Libya.
The recovery of the ship — and the majority of the bodies, still trapped inside — is expected late next month.
Italy's missing person prefect Vittorio Piscitelli has been overseeing a project to catalogue the victims' DNA and other distinguishing features in a database to help relatives track down their missing loved ones.
Now the herculean task of identifying the dead will be given a major boost by an agreement signed with the interior and education ministries, which has already seen over 20 universities pledge their support and assets.
The current collaboration with universities in Milan, Catania, Messina and Palermo will be extended to “the entire Italian university system”, with volunteers offering “skills in forensic medicine, forensic pathology and
forensic genetics”, the interior ministry said in a statement.
Since the first large-scale migrant wrecks off Lampedusa island in 2013, Italy has been looking at ways to establish the names of all those who perish while fleeing war, poverty or persecution in Africa, the Middle East or South Asia.
But there are no passenger lists on crossings organised by traffickers, documents are quickly destroyed in water and many people are not reported missing because relatives fear repercussions from oppressive governments.
The migrant boat, carrying as many as 800 people, sank after running into a Portuguese freighter which had raced to its rescue, the collision sending its passengers over to one side and causing the vessel to tip over.
The man accused of being the boat's captain, Tunisian Mohammed Ali Malek, was arrested after he was pulled to safety with 27 other men — the sole survivors — and is currently on trial in Italy on charges of multiple manslaughter.
Malek and his alleged second mate, Syrian Mahmoud Bikhit, are also accused of causing a shipwreck and people smuggling.


Italy’s Salvini declares war on mafia after migrant worker deaths

Italy's hardline Interior Minister Matteo Salvini on Tuesday declared war on mafia networks exploiting foreign agricultural workers after 16 died in two crashes in the country's south.

Italy's Salvini declares war on mafia after migrant worker deaths
Matteo Salvini talks with a delegation of foreign farm labourers in Foggia. Photo: Roberto D'Agostino/AFP

The two near-identical crashes, which came within 48 hours of each other outside the city of Foggia in the Puglia region, have put a spotlight on the plight of foreign seasonal tomato-pickers during harvest season.

“It's a mafia problem. In Foggia… there is mafia criminality that I intend to eradicate street by street, town by town, by all means legally available,” Salvini said at a press conference in Foggia on Tuesday.

Salvini, who is also co-deputy prime minister and leader of the far-right League, said his anti-migrant campaign would starve criminal gangs of people to exploit.

He also blasted “unfair competition” from what he calls imports “forced” by the European Union, a favourite target of his.

The Foggia province hosts thousands of African migrants who spend the summer harvesting season picking tomatoes in blazing temperatures alongside workers from eastern Europe, typically Romanians, Bulgarians and Poles.

Although most of those working in the fields in Italy have regular papers, they rarely receive the benefits and salaries required by law, and many live in squalid conditions.

They are often at the mercy of day labourer recruiters — sometimes linked to organised crime — who operate as intermediaries and collect a portion of the workers' pay.

Fourteen workers — all non-EU citizens — were killed on Monday when the van taking them home from work smashed into a lorry transporting harvested tomatoes.

On Saturday, four African farm workers were killed in another collision with a tomato truck.

That crash provoked dozens of African workers living in one of the province's shanty towns to go on strike on Wednesday morning and march to Foggia.

'Uncontrolled migration'

On Tuesday Salvini said that mafia networks had benefited from “uncontrolled immigration”.

“If there were not thousands of desperate people to exploit, they would have more trouble doing business,” he said.

The 45-year-old also announced his intention to tackle the “importing of slaves” from within Europe, asking for more stringent checks from his Bulgarian and Romanian counterparts.

Salvini said that Italy's traffic police have seized 300 vehicles in the area in recent months, most of which were “vans registered in Bulgaria and without insurance”, adding that the service had only 116 officers to control the province's roads.

He said that some Italian farmers should be labelled “outlaws because some use mafia methods to enrich themselves”.

Salvini also claimed that the EU had helped create the situation that led to the use of what Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte called “slave labour” after his own visit to Foggia.

“If Europe didn't force us to accept the importing of Tunisian tomatoes, Moroccan oranges, Burmese rise and Canadian wheat maybe it would be easier for our farmers to live,” Salvini said.