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Wednesday, 04 August 2021

Syrian refugees find son's grave in Italy

AFP , Tuesday 12 Apr 2016
A rescue operation of migrants and refugees at sea, yesterday, off the coast of Sicily April 11, 2016 (Photo: AFP)

An Italian TV show has helped a Syrian refugee couple finally find the grave of their 4-year-old son, after losing all four of their children when a boat carrying them to Europe sank off the Libyan coast.

The broadcast brought to an end an 18-month nightmare, which began on a chaotic night in the Mediterranean, an official from a refugee aid group said on Tuesday.

Originally from Damascus, 36-year-old Amjad and 33-year-old Tahani had been living in Libya for several years when they decided to flee the violence and instability.

Unable to return to Syria, they took their chances on an over-loaded fishing vessel on August 2, 2014 with their children Rama, 6, Mohammed, 4, Omar, 2 and 11-month-old Israa.

Late that night the boat ran into an oil tanker, causing panic which capsized the vessel, throwing all aboard into the waves in the dark.

Amjad and Tahani spent nearly two hours in the water, among hundreds of panicking migrants including some whom grabbed life jackets from children to save their own lives.

Plucked out of the water by separate rescue boats, they only found each other the next day -- but there was no sign of any of their children.

"They were desperate," refugee help group official Chiara Chiarici told AFP on Tuesday.

Five boats helped in the rescue that night. Some had other migrants already on board. They took survivors to two different ports. It was chaos.

"We knocked on every door: ministries, harbour masters..." said Chiarici who, after months of searching, believes that most of the missing drowned even before rescuers arrived.

After a month and a half Amjad and Tahani were moved on to a refugee programme in Germany, where they have since had another baby boy, now 7 months old.

They turned to the German Red Cross -- who contacted the popular Italian TV show "Chi l'ha visto?" ("Who saw him?"), which has been running for 25 years.

A police doctor in Agrigento, Sicily recognised Mohammed's face, from doing an autopsy on his body a few days after the drowning.

The couple were brought to Sicily, and shown Mohammed's clothes, shoes and, ironically, his life jacket. They identified their son from photos taken in the morgue.

They were taken to a cemetery in Ribera, 50 kilometres (30 miles) from Agrigento, where they were able to put a photo of their child on his gravestone.

"Mohammed has a grave," his father told the daily La Stampa. "Now we are going to keep looking for our other children."

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