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Challenges in the identification of dead migrants in the Mediterranean: The case study of the Lampedusa shipwreck of October 3rd 2013

Olivieri, Lara, Mazzarelli, Debora, Bertoglio, Barbara, De Angelis, Danilo, Previderè, Carlo, Grignani, Pierangela, Cappella, Annalisa, Presciuttini, Silvano, Bertuglia, Caterina, Di Simone, Paola, Polizzi, Nicolò, Iadicicco, Agata, Piscitelli, Vittorio, Cattaneo, Cristina
Forensic science international 2018 v.285 pp. 121-128
Y chromosome, case studies, coasts, data collection, face, forensic sciences, genetic markers, humans, immigration, mitochondrial DNA, police, universities, Italy
Every year thousands of migrants die during the endeavour to reach the Italian coasts, making the Mediterranean the theatre of one of the greatest tragedies of mankind. Over 60% of these victims is buried unidentified: one of the reasons behind this is related to the specific difficulties and lack of strategies concerning AM and PM data collection. The present article describes how Italy is trying to face the problem of migrant identification, thanks to the collaboration between government, the Italian national police and universities. In particular, this is the first pilot study carried out to identify the victims of the second greatest tragedy of its kind off the Italian coast, near Lampedusa, on October 3rd 2013, which caused 366 victims. The present article shows the strategies conceived to collect postmortem and especially antemortem data and to compare them to identify matches, using medicolegal, anthropological, odontological and genetic approaches. Thirty-one victims out of 53 missing sought by relatives were identified (58.5%). The type and the quality of antemortem data available, generally photos and videos, pinpoints the importance of the face and the body for identification when the bodies are well preserved and how DNA analyses may at times present difficulties. In fact, critical points emerged concerning especially the lack of genetic information of the populations to which the victims belonged, the number of genetic markers needed to reach a statistical support for the identification and the need to adopt lineage markers such as mitochondrial DNA and Y-chromosome polymorphisms to identify parental relationships. This pilot study however has proven that families continue to seek their relatives and that it is possible, as well as mandatory, to identify migrant victims in spite of the difficulties in the collection of antemortem and postmortem data. In addition, considering the peculiar scenario, novel strategies for positive identification have to be defined in each field (anthropological, odontological and genetic) as well as in combination.