Grimy watches, bracelets, photos: evidence of boat migrant tragedies

Fri Nov 20, 2015 6:14am EST
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By Steve Scherer and Tony Gentile

PALERMO, Italy (Reuters) - Sandy and grimy, the watches, cell phones, family photos, $100 bills, and passports from Pakistan, Syria and Sudan are the tattered possessions of migrants who died at sea.

They offer a glimpse into the lives of a few of the 3,500 people who have died this year crossing the Mediterranean, desperate to reach Europe.

Italian homicide police removed the items from the corpses of about 90 men, women and infants who perished aboard three different boats this summer.

They preserved the personal effects -- a beaded necklace, religious items both Christian and Muslim, a wedding picture, an Istanbul bus pass -- as potential evidence to use in court against their smugglers, and to identify the corpses.

"We treat these cases as murder cases," said Giovanni Drago, a longtime member of Palermo's homicide squad which gave Reuters permission to photograph the possessions.

Many of the corpses brought to Palermo had been removed from below the deck of a wooden fishing boat. Jammed together next to the motor, the migrants suffocated, autopsies revealed.

The Africa-Italy route is the deadliest, recording more than 80 percent of the total Mediterranean migrant deaths in 2015. Italy has taken in more than 140,000 people amid the biggest immigration crisis Europe has seen since World War Two.

Escaping war, persecution or severe poverty, migrants pay from $1,200 to $1,600 to smugglers, according to Sicilian prosecutors, in a gamble to reach Europe in unseaworthy boats overloaded to maximize profit.   Continued...

A member of the homicide squad holds plastic evidence bags containing unclaimed items, including photos, money and a travel pass, that belonged to a migrant who died during their journey to Europe, in the police department in Palermo, Italy November 4, 2015. REUTERS/Tony Gentile