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President says only 3 of 26 women who died at sea were identified as Nigerians

The president said the bodies of the dead were hurriedly buried before their nationalities could be confirmed.

During an interactive session with members of the Nigerian community in Abidjan, on the sidelines of the 5th AU-EU Summit in Cote D'Ivoire, on Tuesday, November 28, 2017, the president said the bodies of the dead were hurriedly buried before their nationalities could be confirmed.

According to a statement signed by the president's Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, he said, "When it was announced that 26 Nigerians died recently in the Mediterranean, before they proved that they were all Nigerians they buried them.

"But the evidence I have from the Senior Special Assistant on Diaspora and Foreign Affairs, (Mrs. Abike Dabiri-Erewa) is that only three of them were identified as Nigerians. But I’ll not be surprised if the majority of them were Nigerians."

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While discussing the government's efforts to stop future tragedies, the president said his administration will do its best to make sure Nigerians are comfortable enough to not embark on dangerous journeys to Europe.

"For people to cross the Sahara desert and Mediterranean through shanty boats… we will try and keep them at home. But anybody who died in the desert and Mediterranean without documents; to prove that he is a Nigerian, there is absolutely nothing we can do," he said.

Burial controversy

The victims were buried in Salerno, south of Naples, in Italy on November 17, an act which angered Nigerian authorities.

The Federal Government sent a protest letter to the Italian government over what it described as the hasty burial and break in agreement.

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There was public outcry against the absence of any Nigerian official at the burial of the victims, and the Federal Government explained that it was not properly informed.

While addressing the press on Monday, November 20, President Buhari's Senior Special Assistant on Foreign Affairs and Diaspora, Abike Dabiri-Erewa said the Italian Embassy had earlier informed the National Agency for Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) that the burial would take place on November 26.

She said, "It was shocking to watch the burial of these migrants on television, I think on November 17, because the information from the Italian Embassy to NAPTIP was the fact that these girls would be buried on November 26.

"We are asking the Italian authorities, and we have communicated a letter through the Italian Embassy here in Nigeria, why these girls were buried earlier.

"Secondly, where are the results of the pathological tests that were done?  Who conducted the DNA tests?  And how do we now identify that all 26 girls were Nigerians?

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"From available information from Italy, about three girls can be identified to be Nigerians. Did Italy get the permission to go ahead with the burial of these girls, no matter their nationalities?

"We appeal to the Italian authorities, we are going to take this up at the highest diplomatic level and we are going to get answers."

While she claims that a post-mortem had not been carried out, Italian authorities had released results of the autopsies conducted on the victims a day prior to the public burial.

The autopsy revealed that 25 of the victims died of asphyxiation in the water, when the inflatable dinghy they were travelling on sank while the remaining one suffered a wound to her liver.

Most of the dead victims are teenagers aged 14 to 18 and two of them were pregnant.

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Spanish warship, Cantabria, docked at the southern port of Salernoon Sunday, November 5, carrying 375 survivors and the dead women kept in a refrigerated section of the warship.

The bodies of the victims were recovered from two separate shipwrecks, 23 from one and three from the other, after rescue operations by Cantabria which works as part of the European Union's Sophia anti-trafficking operation.

Italian security authorities have already arrested two men in connection with the deaths.

The two men, named as Al Mabrouc Wisam Harar, from Libya, and Egyptian Mohamed Ali Al Bouzid, have been charged by investigators after they were identified by survivors as the captains of one of the boats where the victims died.

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