Gaza Families Mourn amid Failure to Find Missing Shipwreck Victims

More than two weeks after a boat carrying migrants to Europe sunk off the coast of Malta, none of the bodies of Palestinians who are thought to have drowned at sea have been recovered by search teams.

Eight Palestinians are known to have survived the Sept. 6 shipwreck that killed around 500 migrants, and they are being cared for between Italy, Greece, and Malta.

But Palestinian ambassador to Italy Mai al-Kaila on Saturday told Ma’an that rescuers have had difficulties recovering bodies from the sea because the boat capsized in international waters.

Despite this, however, she said that Italian coastal guards are continuing the search for the missing.

Al-Kaila said that Italian authorities have promised to give political asylum to two Palestinians who survived the shipwreck, and the pair will also be allowed to bring their families to live in Italy.

Meanwhile, Marwan Tubasi, Palestine’s ambassador to Greece, told Ma’an Saturday that authorities in that country had granted three Palestinian survivors permission to stay for six months, and that the embassy was working to acquire them Palestinian passports as well.

Families in ‘Open Mourning’

The fate of those who were unable to make it to European shores, however, is far less certain at this stage, with ambassadors in all three countries pointing out that coast guards have failed to locate any of the missing Palestinians from the sea so far.

In Gaza, some families have already started mourning their missing loved ones, as the days have dragged on and no indication of their survival has surfaced.

Dozens of family members of the missing migrants on Sunday demonstrated outside the office of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Gaza City, urging authorities to give them more information on the whereabouts of their missing loved ones.

“15 days have passed and we still haven’t received any news about my husband and my son,” said protester Um Udayy Nahhal.

Speaking to reporters while carrying a photo of her husband Fawzi Nahhal and her seven-year-old son Udayy, she said that the pair were among the migrants feared dead in the shipwreck.

“It is my very right to know whether they are alive or dead,” she told reporters.

A spokesman of the families of missing Gazan migrants also urged the ICRC and other human rights groups to reveal the destiny of the missing migrants for the last 15 days.

Gaza resident Khalil Abu Shammala told Ma’an that two of his sons were on the boat which capsized two weeks ago, one of an unknown number of Palestinians from Gaza who fled to Egypt before boarding the vessel to seek a better life across the sea in Europe.

“The families of the missing people have been in open mourning” for the last two weeks he said, appealing to President Mahmoud Abbas to help uncover information regarding those still missing from the shipwreck.

A key part of the problem relates to the issue of jurisdiction, since the fact that the boat capsized in international water — meaning more than 200 nautical miles away from any coast — means no nearby state is immediately responsible for recovery, while the home states of the migrants themselves generally lack the ability to carry out any rescue operations.

Palestine to Ask Egypt to Stop Allowing Boats to Sail

Despite this, the undersecretary of the Palestinian foreign ministry Taysir Jaradat told Ma’an that he would lead a Palestinian delegation to Italy, Malta, and Greece in the coming days to follow up on the boat accident.

The delegation, he said, plans to ask authorities in the three countries for information about the missing Palestinians who potentially drowned in their territorial waters.

Jaradat added that the Palestinian foreign ministry had contacted the Egyptian authorities and asked them to prevent human traffickers from sending migrant boats from Egyptian territories.

Any action on the part of Egyptian authorities, however, will likely fail to stem the flow of migrants across the sea, which has shot up to its highest level in recorded memory this year.

So far, watchdogs say that more than 120,000 migrants have crossed the sea in 2014 alone so far, while more than 2,500 have perished.

The surge is the result of political instability and a lack of economic prospects across the southern Mediterranean and Africa, and the number includes many Palestinians who have fled Syria as well as Gaza via boat from Egypt.

Due to unrest in neighboring Libya and heavy surveillance of the seas off the Moroccan coast, thousands of migrants have started making the trek from Egypt in recent months, a far more lengthy — and far more dangerous — trip than before.

The migrants include hundreds of Gazans who are thought to have escaped via tunnels to Egypt in order to flee the nearly two-month offensive that left more than 2,000 dead and 110,000 homeless in the tiny coastal enclave.

The mass devastation wreaked by the Israeli bombardment has dimmed Gaza’s economic prospects for the near future even further, and as Egypt continues to crack down on movement of goods and people through tunnels — including shooting one man dead on Saturday — the tide is likely to continue.

(Ma’an – www.maannews.net)

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