Dignitaries attend funeral of the unknown migrants who died trying to reach Europe

24 migrants laid to rest after interfaith ceremony

True grief: a survivor of a migrant crossing, who today lives in the UK, cries at the funeral of the 24 unidentified migrants. Photo: Ray Attard
True grief: a survivor of a migrant crossing, who today lives in the UK, cries at the funeral of the 24 unidentified migrants. Photo: Ray Attard
One of the many: AFM soldiers carry the coffins of the unidentified migrants who died in the shipwreck. Photo: Ray Attard
One of the many: AFM soldiers carry the coffins of the unidentified migrants who died in the shipwreck. Photo: Ray Attard
European Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos
European Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos
One of the many: AFM soldiers carry the coffins of the unidentified migrants who died in the shipwreck. Photo: Ray Attard
One of the many: AFM soldiers carry the coffins of the unidentified migrants who died in the shipwreck. Photo: Ray Attard
Mourners outside the morgue where the bodies of the 24 migrants laid
Mourners outside the morgue where the bodies of the 24 migrants laid
Malta holds funeral for 24 unidentified migrants who died in Lampedusa shipwreck. Video: Ray Attard

A sunny morning was today punctuated by the morose atmosphere of mourning dignitaries outside the Mater Dei Hospital morgue, where the bodies of 24 migrants who perished in the deadliest migrant shipwreck ever in the Mediterranean sea, were taken for burial.

President of the Republic Marie Louise Coleiro Preca, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, Opposition leader Simon Busuttil, and various ministers were present.

The attendees also included Italian home affairs minister Angelino Alfano and European Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos.

An interfaith ceremony was carried out earlier today, after which the migrants will be buried at the Addolorata Cemetery.

The coffins were carried into the space by AFM soldiers to the sounds of a melancholy harp tune and the wailing of the mourners. The 24 coffins were placed into their respective trestles in front of the seated dignitaries, many of whom were visibly moved. Sadly, the coffins bore only numbers as the victims had remained unidentified, and there was one coffin that drew attention as it was white, for the body of the youngest of the migrants found.

The ceremony was presided over by Imam Mohammed El Saadi and Bishop Mario Grech of Gozo. The pair read readings from the Quran and the Bible respectively.

In his speech, the Imam likened life to a journey of migration, of  people move from one state to another. “The tragic end of these people’s lives raises questions about whether we are all living the properties of love, dignity, peace and solidarity. We need to reconcile God to our lives once again and carry out a thorough examination of ourselves on this sad day,” El Saadi said.

The Imam thanked the Maltese and Italian authorities and police and armed forces as well as the various entities that had stood up for the migrants in the past in the name of the Muslim community of the country.

Bishop Mario Grech on the other hand focused his reading and speech on merciful love, as he read the gospel reading about the good Samaritan. “These victims have escaped from a situation of extreme desperation to a better life, and they have died as unidentified people. We feel their loss as fellow humans and this gospel shows us that mercy and love can bring these victims out of anonymity and into our hearts as our neughbours,” Grech said.

Grech said that although he was not in the position to suggest any policies in the matter, he felt that nations should stop blaming each other about whose duty is being neglected, and focus instead on the human aspect. “Merciful love will encourage us to be compassionate and treat our neighbours’ welfare as precious. If society forgets charity and compassion, it will no longer retain its human properties.”

The bodies were brought to Malta by the Italian coast guard vessel Bruno Gregoretti on Monday morning, bringing with it 24 bodies and 28 survivors – two of whom turned out to be smugglers.  

The two men – identified as Mohammed Ali Malek and Mahmud Bikhit and who witnessed the transfer of the cadavers onto the waiting hearses – were arrested in Italy as soon as the Gregoracci docked in Catania.

The bodies were then carried into waiting hearses and transferred to the hospital morgue

According to the UNHCR, the tragedy – which has claimed the lives of some 700 migrants – was “the deadliest incident in the Mediterranean we have ever recorded”.

The UNHCR said 1,300 deaths were reported in April alone, making it the deadliest month on record.

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