The Italian government has ordered that migrants rescued by NGOs at sea must spend a period of quarantine aboard a ship, without disembarking on land. The decision unleashed controversy, with associations denouncing it as a measure against NGOs.
With migrant departures from Libya towards Italy resuming despite the coronavirus emergency, the Italian government has closed its ports because it is "not safe" due to the health situation.
The Italian government has entrusted its civil protection service to "create facilities or areas on land or ships to be able to admit" migrants who independently reach Italian coasts or are rescued at sea by NGOs and must undergo a period of quarantine.
Migrants who arrive independently will be quarantined on land, while those rescued at sea will be quarantined aboard ships provided by civil protection.
"There's the need to guarantee health oversight -- that is, quarantine or isolation -- also for migrants who disembark," said civil protection head Angelo Borrelli during a press conference on Sunday. "For this the department will create facilities or areas on land or ships where migrants can be admitted."
Borrelli said that following the period of quarantine, the migrants "will be managed according to ordinary procedures", and added that the "Red Cross will give support together with health personnel, and there will be respect for the use of personal protective equipment."
Mayor of Pozzallo approves of ship quarantine
The decision to quarantine migrants aboard ships was welcomed favourably by Roberto Ammatuna, mayor of Pozzallo, one of the most frequent disembarkation points on the island of Sicily.
"It's a correct choice that of the head of civil protection, Angelo Borrelli, to guarantee to migrants who disembark in Sicily quarantine or isolation aboard ships rented especially for that purpose," Ammatuna said.
"Repeating the health surveillance provided for migrants aboard the Alan Kurdi for all situations that present themselves means facing the problem in the right way," he said.
ARCI says quarantine ships are against NGOs
"The Italian government, through a decree by the head of civil protection Angelo Borrelli, separates the fate of those who disembark independently on Italian shores (the large majority) from those who are rescued at sea (very few): the former will be welcomed in special quarantine shelters; the latter, on the other hand, will be confined to ships at sea, awaiting, perhaps, relocation to some country more generous than ours," said Filippo Miraglia, national director for the organisation ARCI, which works to defend migrants' rights in Italy.
"Too bad that an Italian ship, even in international waters, is already national territory, and therefore, the responsibility -- both for the eventual presentation of an asylum request and for the subsequent accommodation -- remains with our country. Moreover, carrying out quarantine operations at sea with Italian personnel is clearly less safe than doing it on land. The government's intervention is therefore purely symbolic: it serves to dissuade NGOs from rescuing those human lives that seem to matter less, or not at all, in the eyes of the government," Miraglia said.