A group of 30 migrants on the Open arms that reached Porto Empedocle (Ag), from Lampedusa, on the Sansovino ship, August 23, 2019 | Photo: ANSA/PASQUALE CLAUDIO MONTANA LAMPO
A group of 30 migrants on the Open arms that reached Porto Empedocle (Ag), from Lampedusa, on the Sansovino ship, August 23, 2019 | Photo: ANSA/PASQUALE CLAUDIO MONTANA LAMPO

The coronavirus crisis in Italy is raising concern for the consequences the epidemic could have on migrants, even if no cases have been registered so far.

The coronavirus outbreak in Italy could place migrants at risk given the poor living conditions experienced by many, although no cases have been reported so far. 

In particular, authorities and NGOs this week expressed concern for foreigners living in tent camps, abandoned farmhouses and so-called ghettos, particularly in the south of the country. 

The lack of running water, disinfectant and overcrowding of such housing arrangements could lead to a quick spread of the virus, they said. 

Risk reported in centers, 'ghettos' 

Centers of first hosting are not a source of concern given that they are nearly empty due to a drop in landings. No arrivals were reported during the first week of March, according to official data released by the government (73 landings were recorded over the same period in 2019). 

An example is the hotspot in Pozzallo, Sicily. Mayor Roberto Ammatuna said that, by the end of the week, the facility will be empty after it hosted for a 14-day-long quarantine a reported 276 people rescued at the end of February off Libya by migrant rescue ship Ocean Viking. 

However, the most difficult situations have been reported in the southern regions of Calabria and Puglia, in particular in the plane of Gioia Tauro and its so-called 'ghetto' of Taurianova and the tent camp of San Ferdinando. 

Francesco Piobbichi, who runs the project Mediterranean Hope to help migrant farm workers, said over 1,000 people live in the area. The tent camps mainly house farm hands between the ages of 20 and 40 who work nearby. 

"A pragmatic and national intervention plan is necessary to safeguard public health", he said. "We hope that this will be an occasion to deal with the situation and dismantle ghettos, without however leaving people with no alternatives as has happened so far" when migrants were evicted from makeshift camps. 

In the area of Foggia, an estimated 2,400 foreigners live in Borgo Mezzanotte and other overcrowded 'ghettos' across the province where up to four migrants have to share sleeping arrangements in a few meters. Nearly 60% of them have regular permits. 

Astalli Center limits services in Rome 

In Rome, the Jesuit Astalli Center, which hosts refugees in the capital, is limiting its services amid the coronavirus emergency. The center has stopped serving lunch in its canteen, which is close to the central Piazza Venezia. 

The center offers a lunchbox with canned food, bread and fruit as it does not have enough space to guarantee that people will be able to maintain a safe distance, as required by the government's decree to contain the spread of the virus. The time to shower and have breakfast has also been reduced for security reasons. The center's medical practice has been closed. 

Meanwhile in Bologna the Migrants' Coordination, an association representing those staying at hosting facilities in the city, are protesting. 

"We can't accept that our life is endangered by the racist silence of institutions," representatives of the organization said. "They should intervene immediately to increase the number of beds in facilities and adequate rooms," they added, urging local and regional authorities to act. 

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