The hunt for identities of all the victims of the Mediterranean’s deadliest migrant shipwreck has instead revealed that the sinking was far deadlier than anyone knew. One of the two investigators on the project, tracing families and survivors in Africa, has confirmed that the boat that sank on April 18, 2015 carried not 800 migrants as previously believed, but as many as 1,100.
That up to 300 people could vanish reflects the hidden toll of migration. At a time when global migration is at a record high, The Associated Press has found in an exclusive tally that at least 62,284 migrants have died or disappeared worldwide since 2014. That’s more than double the only official attempt at a toll, by the U.N.’s International Organization for Migration.
The discovery also makes it even harder for the investigators to keep Italy’s promise to name all the dead, especially at a time when Europe has turned against migrants. After the boat sank, then-Prime Minister Matteo Renzi committed Italy to
Her counterpart, Jose Pablo Baraybar from the International Committee
The migrants on the peschereccio started their journeys in some 20 countries, from Bangladesh to the western tip of Mauritania, according to information from the two investigators, published accounts of survivors, Italian government documents, and families who fear their loved ones were among the lost passengers.
One father, Cheikh Fofana, said his son called to say he was leaving soon for Europe. That was the last he heard from Tidiane. On the day before the peschereccio left from Libya, 12 rows of men, 100 to a row, lined up on the beach.
Around this time, Fofana called his son’s phone again. A stranger answered and told him Tidiane had left for Italy. “I know that if he is dead, there’s nothing more I can do, by the grace of God. But let me know, is he alive? Is he dead?” Fofana said, his lined face twisting in anguish. It took a year to raise the hull from the sea floor and drag it to Italy. In her book released this month, Cattaneo described “a carpet of human silhouettes that stretched out across the area of the hold … almost all face down, some in a fetal position, many swollen with putrefaction.” In the end, Italy’s government counted 547 victims, plus 325 skulls that Cattaneo keeps in her lab for further study.
When it was time to find the families, Italy turned to Baraybar, the Peruvian forensic anthropologist. An intense man with enormous eyes that peer from behind button-lensed glasses, Baraybar started with the
“You cannot just tell them a story and you cannot misrepresent who you are. You’re not there to bring them a body bag or give them money,” said Baraybar. During a trip to Mauritania, the 27 names led to 40 more to try to match against the DNA samples sequenced by Cattaneo in Italy. That led him to his most recent trip to Senegal, where he confirmed the higher count with people who had direct knowledge of how the boat was loaded.
Baraybar knows more about how the networks operate, more about the path’s migrants take — and more about how to trace the dead. Like Cattaneo, he remains committed to pursuing the identities of the migrants