Italian authorities made a shocking discovery in the Mediterranean Sea, recovering the bodies of 26 teenage girls who were attempting to escape Nigeria and Niger, CNN reports.
The girls, aged 14-18, were believed to have embarked on the difficult journey earlier in the weekend, traveling at least 1,000 miles from their respective countries to reach the shores of Libya, a pathway to nearby Europe. Italian police plan to conduct official autopsies to determine whether the girls were sexually molested or tortured.
According to police, several bodies were found near an almost submerged rubber dinghy, while other bodies floated nearby. Authorities were able to recover survivors who were found clinging to floating materials in the area.
The bodies of the girls were recovered during one of four rescues that occurred over the weekend before disembarking from the Italian seaport town of Salerno. Italian Police told CNN there were over 400 migrants rescued during the missions. Among them were 90 women and 52 minors, including a week-old-baby.
Libya, separated from Italy by the Mediterranean Sea, is a destination for refugees seeking asylum before making the grueling journey by boat to Europe. However, the country has struggled with human trafficking due to a lack of central governance, CNN reports. On Monday in an unrelated investigation, two men were arrested in Libya for human trafficking.
Thousands of African migrants have fled sub-Saharan Africa in an effort to escape poverty and war-torn nations in search of economic freedom. Since January, 2,839 migrants have died traveling across the Mediterranean Sea, while 150,982 have reached Europe’s mainland, settling mostly in Italy.