Shivering immigrants pulled from icy Mediterranean waters, huddled under aid workers’ blankets, hardly move the hearts of wealthy nationals in developed countries these days.
But the story this week of 26 young African women whose bodies were recovered near a smuggler’s boatload of migrants caused some heads to turn and tears to fall.
Their bodies were plucked from the sea Sunday in one of four separate rescue operations that brought 400 people to the Italian port town of Salerno.
“The sea continues to be a graveyard,” the medical aid group Doctors Without Borders was quoted to say.
Italian authorities say they have launched an investigation into the cause of death of the 26 teenage girls, believed to have been migrants from Niger and Nigeria, who had boarded a flimsy rubber dinghy from Libya with hopes of reaching Europe this past weekend.
Lorena Ciccotti, Salerno’s head of police, told CNN that coroners would be investigating whether the girls had been tortured or sexually abused.
Of the 400 who were rescued, 90 were women and 52 were minors, including a week-old baby.
According to Italy’s interior ministry, more than 111,700 people have reached the country by sea in the first 10 months of 2017.
Traffickers are still sending migrant boats out into the Mediterranean—the International Organization for Migration said Friday that more than 2,560 migrants had been saved over four days.
In all, 2,839 people have died while attempting the crossing so far this year, it said.
“Currently, there is no reason whatsoever for celebration,” said a spokesman for Alarmphone, a network of activist and migrant groups providing a 24-hour hotline for refugees in distress at sea.
“The root causes for migration and flight have not changed.”