Italian prosecutors have begun investigations into the deaths of 26 Nigerian women – most of them teenagers aged between 14 and 18 – whose bodies were recovered at the Mediterranean Sea.
While the bodies of 26 Nigerian women were recovered from the Mediterranean Sea, five suspects in the southern port city of Salerno are also being questioned as investigators are suspicious that their involvement in the women’s deaths was also preceded by sexual assault.
“Salvatore Malfi, the police prefect of the southern town of Salerno, said the 26 women may have been thrown off their rubber dinghy into the waters of the Mediterranean,” NPR’s Sylvia Poggioli reports from Rome. “The cause of death appears to be by drowning.”
A total of 375 migrants were rescued by the Spanish warship, Cantabria, which eventually docked in Salerno. Twenty-three of the deceased females were recovered from a rubber boat carrying 64 other people, BBC reports.
Most of the survivors originated from Nigeria, Senegal, Ghana, Sudan and The Gambia, while ninety of them were women and 52 children. Eight of the women were pregnant. A smaller number of Libyan men and women were also aboard the migrant ship.
Agence France Press reports that a spokesman for the EU anti-trafficking force Sofia said “another three bodies had been discovered during other life-saving operations in the Mediterranean this week.”
People-smuggling gangs charge each migrant about $6,000 (£4,578) 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.
In July, European and African ministers convened to develop a method aimed at stemming the flow of refugees fleeing Africa into European ports and limit the number of undocumented immigrants to 20,000. Ministers discussed tougher deportation strategies as well as how to break up human-trafficking gangs.