The wailing of mourning refugees set a sombre tone at an interfaith funeral ceremony yesterday, held for the 24 unnamed migrants who lost their lives in Sunday’s tragedy.
“These men could have been my son or my husband. Yes, I cry. I cry because I know what it means when someone dies this way,” Aatifa Solomon, an Eritrean woman who attended the funeral, told Times of Malta.
She lost her husband in a similar tragedy three years ago and was one of dozens of migrants who sobbed throughout the heart-wrenching ceremony.
The service was held for the 24 dead migrants pulled out of the water, the remaining 800 believed to have drowned when their crowded boat capsized some 30 miles off the Libyan coast last Sunday.
The poignant, 45-minute funeral service was held in a large marquee on the helipad of Mater Dei Hospital and was led by Gozo Bishop Mario Grech and Imam Mohammed El Sadi. The two read passages from the Bible and Koran, in what they both later described as “a celebration of life and compassion”.
We have all emigrated from the womb, to this earth, and will immigrate once more to the grave
European Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos, Italian Home Affairs Minister Angelino Alfano and Greek Solidarity Minister Theano Fotio were among the attendees. President Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, Opposition leader Simon Busuttil and nearly all Malta’s MPs attended, sitting in stoic silence.
Their moments of quiet reflection were accompanied by both harp melodies and the endless crying of mourners. Some migrants held their hands up to the sky, questioning “Why?” Others covered their faces and pulled at their hair – the physical manifestation of the anguish for those that had not made it out of the sea alive. The ceremony featured prominently in the international media, which ran news bulletins of the ceremony in conjunction with the meeting held in Brussels.
Under the marquee, both Bishop Grech and Imam El Sadi called on the Maltese to show compassion towards those arriving on our shores, fleeing conflict.
Imam El Sadi told the gathering that all people were migrants in one way or another. “We have all emigrated from the womb, to this earth, and will immigrate once more to the grave,” he said, thanking the Maltese and Italian authorities for their efforts towards saving migrants’ lives.
Mgr Grech turned to the mourners and said that although those who had died remained unidentified, they were mourned by all those who realised that, irrespective of race, they were human and a tragic loss to humanity.
Outside the marquee, the bouquets of flowers left at the hospital morgue lined the passageway to the makeshift funeral parlour. Nurses and doctors on their breaks took a brief moment to pay their respects, as did other passers-by, who stopped along the road to the hospital.
After the service the coffins were taken to the Addolorata Cemetery, where the migrants were laid to their final rest. The mourners’ tears, however, did not stop there.