The human remains of 26 teen girls have been found in the Mediterranean Sea, NPR reports. Prosecutors believe the victims were possibly the victims of sex trafficking and that they might have been murdered while trying to travel to Italy from Niger and Nigeria by boat, according to the BBC.
Twenty-three of the victims were on a boat with 64 migrants who did survive, Buzz Nigeria reports. The bodies were found nearby a dinghy not far from Salerno, a port town in Italy. Survivors were found grabbing on to parts of a boat, as the teens’ bodies floated around them. According to CNN, 400 migrants were rescued from the area over the weekend and brought to Italy. Five migrants are being questioned by Italian officials about the bodies, which range in age from 14 to 18.
Lorena Ciccotti, Salerno's head of police, told CNN that autopsies will be performed on Tuesday. Coroners will be looking for signs of sexual abuse and foul play.
"The rate of human trafficking continues to rise in Europe at a staggering rate, and many of these victims are coming from Nigeria. Indeed, in 2016 alone, more than 11,000 Nigerian women and girls either crossing the African continent or traveling by boat, arrived in Italy, where traffickers are waiting to ensnare and entrap them," Dr. John DeGarmo, human trafficking and foster care expert and Director of the Foster Care Institute said in an email statement to Refinery29. "Many of these victims are fleeing a life of violence and extreme poverty for the promise of a better lifestyle, of a dream of finding success. European nations such as Romania, Italy, and Greece have seen the largest increase in human trafficking. Most of these victims are between the ages of 14 and 18.”
The Italian newspaper Corriere Della Sera recently reported that Nigerian girls and women are often brought to Italy by sex traffickers.