By Chris Scicluna
VALETTA – An imam and a bishop led a poignant inter-faith funeral service on Malta on Thursday for 24 drowned migrants, the only victims whose bodies were recovered from the Mediterranean in the weekend shipwreck that shocked Europe.
The dead were picked up by the Italian vessel Gregoretti and brought to Malta on Monday after their vessel capsized and sank early on Sunday morning. As many as 900 people are believed to have died.
Twenty-eight survivors were taken to Italy. The overwhelming majority of victims were never found, locked below decks and sinking along with the boat. The captain has been arrested in Italy on suspicion of homicide, people smuggling and causing a shipwreck.
The disaster brought the death toll so far this year to around 1,800 desperate migrants drowned in the Mediterranean while trying to cross, and prompted the EU to summon leaders of its 28 member states for an emergency summit on Thursday.
European leaders were expected to reverse a decision they took last year to halt search and rescue efforts at sea, which human rights groups say led inevitably to the deaths.
The funeral ceremony in the island state, the EU’s smallest country, was conducted under a large tent just outside the morgue of the Mater Dei Hospital in Malta’s capital Valetta.
Maltese President Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca, PrimeMinister Joseph Muscat, the EU Commissioner for Migration and ministers from Italy and Greece watched as coffins of the 24 unidentified men, including four teenagers, were carried by soldiers. The route was lined by bouquets of flowers which overthe past days were sent to the morgue by Maltese.
Imam Mohammed El Sadi thanked the Maltese and Italian authorities for seeking to save the migrants. What had happened, he said, should raise awareness of the migrants’ plight.