On a trip to Sicily, Francis Ipisbhe lost his wife. Today, a year later, he finally had the opportunity to write her name on the grave.A little over a week ago, Francis Ipisbhe knelt on the ground, looked towards the sky, and with tired arms raised above his head, thanked God.
For a year, he had been searching for his missing wife, Maria. He already found it. Maria’s body was found among hundreds of unmarked immigrant graves in a cemetery in Palermo, the capital of Sicily. All these graves belong to immigrants who lost their lives in the Mediterranean while trying to reach Europe.
As the number of attempts to find welfare by sea increases, thousands of Marys fill unmarked graves across Italy, Greece and Turkey, while thousands of relatives, like Francis, search for them in desperation.The couple left Lagos, Nigeria, in early 2017. They crossed the Sahara, climbed together into a dinghy filled with others like them, and left the coast of Tripoli for Italy. After several hours at sea, the craft began to disintegrate, but the clandestines saw a rescue ship on the horizon and rejoiced in tears. After that, everything went terribly wrong.
With tears streaming down his cheeks, Francis, 46, relived the heart-wrenching moments of the tragic night he lost Maria once and for all. “She was hanging on my shoulders when I was trying to tie a rope to the sides of the ship,” he said. “Behind me, dozens of people pushed to get to the rescue ship as soon as possible. When I managed to tighten the rope, I no longer felt Mary’s arms around my neck.The crowd surged forward and Mary, who was 27 years old and four months pregnant, fell into the sea. Francis dove into the water, but when he brought her back to the surface, she had stopped breathing.
“I tried, God knows how hard I tried to save him,” he says. The date was May 25, 2017, and the world’s seven most powerful leaders had just arrived in Taormina, on Sicily’s east coast, for the G7 summit, so Italian authorities stopped migrant ships from docking at local ports. Francis’ group had to wait three days off the south-eastern port of Augusta. “I cried for three days as I stood guard over Mary’s dead body,” he said.
When Ipisbhe finally landed in Augusta, he asked the local police what would happen to his wife’s body. They told him: “We will take care of this.” We will let you know where he is buried.”