Waiting for the dead of Lampedusa – BBC News

By Matthew Price Relatives of those who died in one of the worst boat disasters off the shores of Europe in living memory are still waiting to be allowed to take their family members for a proper burial.

By Matthew Price

Relatives of those who died in one of the worst boat disasters off the shores of Europe in living memory are still waiting to be allowed to take their family members for a proper burial. A total of 366 people – mostly from Eritrea – died when the boat carrying them sank close to the Italian island of Lampedusa.

Church bells sound on the late afternoon breeze as Alem Araya walks through the cemetery in the little Sicilian village of San Biagio Platani.

“Emotional, yes,” he says quietly. “It’s not easy.”

Mr Araya, 49, an Eritrean who has lived in Germany for much of his life, passes row upon row of ornate tombs, pictures of the Virgin Mary and Jesus looking down on him as he heads for the open ground at the bottom of the hill.

There, against a wall, are five basic graves, each with a headstone.

‘All just young’

He stops in front of them, crosses himself, bows his head slightly and then, after a moment, breaks down in tears. His sobs echo across the grave of his brother, and the four others lying now at his feet.

“They were all together in the boat from Libya to Lampedusa,” he says quietly. “Four persons from Eritrea and one person from Ethiopia. All of them just young people.”

His brother Bimnet was 36 years old. A former basketball player for the Eritrean national team. He had studied at university in London.

“He left to make another life in Europe. But that life ended in Lampedusa,” Mr Araya says, wiping away a tear.

So Bimnet, like many others, crossed the border into neighbouring Sudan. From there he travelled to Libya to take a boat to Europe.

“I was against this travel to Libya,” his brother says.

“I tried to bring him legally from Sudan to Germany. But he has many friends, and they were ready to go to Libya. He decided in a short time: ‘No I cannot stay here – I will also take my chance with them’.”

Visas denied

There was no morgue big enough to store the bodies from the shipwreck, so for days they decayed in the heat of a hanger at Lampedusa’s airport.

The grave of a family of Lampedusa shipwreck victims

Then they were shipped off to Sicily and buried – stored essentially – at cemeteries across the island.

Most of the dead are identified only by a number – either placed next to their grave or etched into the concrete behind which they are entombed.

Some graves have been decorated with pictures of those buried inside. Next to one is a picture of a young couple and their baby girl. Number 93. Her name is Fthi.

Most likely the pictures were placed there by relatives who live in Europe who can visit, and who have been able to find their family members.

So far though – because there has been no proper identification process – they have not been able to take the bodies home for a proper burial. And most relatives cannot come – they cannot get the visa to leave Eritrea.

A massive DNA-testing programme is needed. In a clinic in the southern Sicilian town of Agrigento, Alem Araya is one of the first to have blood and a saliva swab taken.

He hands over 150 euros (£124; $203) to pay for the test, after struggling to make himself understood by the assistant who does not speak much English.

Graves of unknown Lampedusa shipwreck victimsSome graves have only numbers

He has the money and resources to do this, and because he is a European resident he can come to Sicily. Most relatives of those who died cannot.

But even for him it has been very difficult to get this far.

‘Forgotten'”The problem is the Italian government is not ready to help us,” he says. “The situation is very, very difficult and they know that. But I don’t think they are ready to help me quickly.”

When the boat sank, Italy’s prime minister promised to do all he could to help the relatives.

Yet two months later, at the anonymous graves with their scratched in numbers, it is as if they have been forgotten, the evidence of Europe’s worst maritime tragedy in years literally buried away.

The Italian government would not comment on Alem Araya’s allegations.

He believes local officials are doing all they can, and yet for him and for his elderly mother, who is waiting back home in Eritrea for her son’s body to be returned, it is all too painfully slow.


“For my mother when I say one more day, it’s for her one year of pain,” he says.

“It’s too long. And not only for my mother, for all of the victims who have family in Eritrea and elsewhere. They are waiting for all the bodies to go back to Eritrea.”

Up on a promenade close to the centre of Agrigento, he leans on a railing, the sun’s light bouncing up off the Mediterranean Sea far below him.

“It’s hard,” he says. “Very, very hard to think about the situation in Lampedusa. I can’t forget it.”

His voice trails off, as he looks out at the sea. The sea in which his brother died.

Source: BBC


Review overview
  • Kabbire December 6, 2013

    What did the Eritrean regime do when more than 400 Eritreans, almost all Christian of Kebesa Eritrea died, in two separate boat tragedies a few days apart in the Lampedusa, Italian coast, in one boat alone 369 Eritreans perished? Nothing.

    What did President Obama do when Nelson Mandela died?

    “President Barack Obama ordered American flags to be lowered immediately to half-staff until Monday in tribute to Mandela, a rare honor for a foreign leader.”

  • Kabbire December 6, 2013

    Look Issaias begging the tyrant convicted Jihadist Omar Albeshir of Sudan to mediate him with Ethiopia. This is his second begging including the one already going through Qatar that includes port services.

    Sudan playing regional peace maker?

    By Mohammed Amin,

    Eritrea and Ethiopia are in secret talks mediated by Khartoum with a view to end the historic conflict between the two nations.

    Sudan’s President Omar Al-Bashir revealed Thursday that he had initiated indirect talks between the leaders of both countries, bringing them on the negotiating table to discuss border disputes, proxy wars in Somalia and other political issues.

    “We started some efforts to normalise the relations between Ethiopia and Eritrea,” President Bashir said, in a joint statement with Ethiopian Prime Minister, Hailemariam Desalegn.

    Eritrea seceded from Ethiopia after a bitterly fought independence war in 1991.

    Unresolved territorial disputes between the two states thereafter escalated into a full-scale war. The Eritrean-Ethiopian war fought from 1998 to 2000 over the border town of Badme in northern Ethiopia left thousands of casualties, millions of dollars spent and only minor border changes.

    Both Addis Ababa and Asmara continue to trade accusations of supporting rebel groups against each other.

    These proxy wars took an international dimension when the Ethiopian army invaded Somalia in 2011 to shore up the interim government against Islamist rebels – who were funded by Eritrea according to a UN report.

    President Bashir said Sudan, based on its “friendly relations with both countries”, could promote healthy and neutral discussions between the two adversaries.

    “I will call the two presidents to hold a summit in Khartoum in the [near future]” Mr Bashir said.

    • Awet December 7, 2013

      It’s sad but the disparate leader is only l

      • Awet December 7, 2013

        Sad to say but the desperate leader is only looking for himself and his support. He is about to meeting with the Ethiopian leader, what are his puppet supporters going to say now? Hello they are about to meet with Weyane.

    • Sara December 7, 2013

      What is wrong with peace? All Eritreans want this, both those who support or against. Why would this be considered a bad thing?

  • Philipos December 7, 2013

    The article states, “He hands over 150 euros (£124; $203) to pay for the test, after struggling to make himself understood by the assistant who does not speak much English.”

    We were led to believe from Asmarino, Meron and Father Zerai that these DNA tests were free and that the brain dead supporters of the junta were charging the victims these fees.

    Looks like they lied. We in the opposition need to refrain from lying out of sheer emotional grief. Doesn’t bode well for our struggle and trustworthiness.

  • Solomon December 7, 2013

    Isias the lier every thing he needs to hide from the people of Eritrea.
    Eritreans they do not have roll in thier own country and regional poletics.
    The people do not know what ever he do.
    But now secret discussion with Ethiopian government.
    Isias is the beginer and Eritreans the losers.
    Why he begins the war is clear.
    But till when will he try to cheat us?

    Report: Eritrean military trafficking children to Sudan, Sinai
    December 5, 2013 (ADDIS ABABA) – A new report published on Wednesday claims that Eritrean and Sudanese military officers are jointly working on trafficking thousands of Eritrean children who are being held hostage for ransom in Sudan and further sold on to a trafficking network in Sinai, Egypt.

    The report titled: “The Human Trafficking Cycle: Sinai and Beyond”, said Eritrea’s Border Surveillance Unit (BSU), which is under the command of General Teklai Kifle locally known as ‘Teklai Manjus’ is responsible for the human trafficking operations of children who, according to the report, are even as young as two or three years old.

    Researchers, by Prof. Mirjam van Reisen, Meron Estefanos and Prof. Conny Rijken,
    said the children are abducted and first smuggled to neighbouring Sudan where captives are asked to raise as much as 10,000 dollars or are threatened to be sold to Bedouin traffickers in Sinai.

    The children, the report for the Europe External Policy Advisors alleges, are sold with the help of Sudanese military officers who collude with Sinai smugglers.

    Once they are in the hands of Bedouin traffickers, the children are often subjected to torture and different forms of inhuman treatments so as to push their relatives to pay the demanded ransom.

    An Eritrean opposition official on Friday told Sudan Tribune that if relatives fail to raise the money the children either are tortured to death or will be subjected to organ harvesting such as to the extraction of kidneys.

    According to the report, between 2007 and 2012 up to 30,000 children were trafficked from inside Eritrea.

    Many others were also kidnapped from refugee camps in Sudan.

    An estimated 5,000 to 10,000 hostages have died in captivity. Many who managed to pay the ransom were also among the victims.

    Among the several kidnapping incidents the report mentioned on the kidnapping of 211 children in October 2013 from a camp in Sudan.

    Captors then demanded a ransom of $10,000 per head to release the children.

    According to the study, some $600 million have been extorted in ransoms during the past five years.

    Most of the children who are freed after the ransom payout are arrested by Egyptian security and are jailed indefinitely.

    Every month, an average of 3,000 Eritreans cross borders to Sudan fleeing repression by regime in Asmara.

    Currently there are nearly 100,000 Eritrean refugees at a camp in eastern Sudan.

    The study by the Swedish and Dutch researchers was based on the interviews with 230 Eritreans who survived the trafficking and the torture in Sinai.

    The report has been presented to the European Union parliament.


  • ERITRAWIT December 7, 2013

    They should finish him off long time ago before he get’s this far. our brother and sister they will have to wait until this devil man Disappear from Eritrea and they will get proper funeral.

  • wedi felasit December 7, 2013

    Please, don’t blame him, blame yourself. he is doing what limit of his mind allows him to exercise. you don’t blame for some one for being damn, if you know his limit and short comings. Blame yourself, what are you doing here? if you know, of course obviously true your nation is in turmoil. Why don’t you go fight and bring a sigh of relief for your nation. how is it possible to bring change simply by cursing some one with out active involvement militarily, politically and socially aspect. By the way, he is so smart, he knows your limit and your psychological make up that you can’t walk an inch to remove him from power. for simple reason he inculcated in to your mind mistrust among you. so, how can you unify while having a huge crack of mistrust in your heart? Any ways, it is Darwinism theory, the fittest………….., I don’t think that country will get an individual who can heal her wound. you guys have a long journey to go. you need to fine out who you are, and your purpose of living . of course, it hard to say a confused society in sociological term, but I will use that word for now. go find yourself. He is doing the best of his mind to protect the country from woyane. don’t blame him for being damn, if you know him is damn, teach me, or remove him from his post, and put him some where, where you think appropriate. It is not by cursing though! The rumor that is flying around is nonsense. trust me no peace with Eritrea, I am not saying with isayas, with you guys too. You guys are a flip face of coin. no difference between you and isayas. make harmony with your self before even think to make peace with Ethiopian. I strongly believe the government of Ethiopia will jeopardize the stability of Ethiopia. Isayas is isayas ,and those people are the people who we know very well. Deal with your nasty leader and with your corrupted humanity.