The Mare Jonio ship of Mediterranea Saving Humans | Photo: ANSA/IGOR PETYX
The Mare Jonio ship of Mediterranea Saving Humans | Photo: ANSA/IGOR PETYX

While migrant landings in Italy in the first half of 2020 have nearly tripled compared to the first semester of 2019, quarantine rules against COVID-19 for migrants rescued at sea have taken center stage. A controversy was sparked by the fact that 67 people who were rescued by Italian vessel Mare Jonio were allowed to disembark in Pozzallo, Sicily, on June 20 while 211 migrants rescued a day later by the German Sea-Watch vessel were transferred to another ship to be quarantined.

Italy has recorded 6,184 landings in the first half of 2020, nearly three times more than over the same period last year. 
After migrants were rescued and taken to Sicily over the weekend by two NGO-run vessels -- Germany's Sea-Watch and Italy's Mare Jonio -- another humanitarian ship, the larger Ocean Viking run by SOS Mediterranee, set out from Marseille and is expected to reach Libyan waters on June 25.

Meanwhile, a controversy has erupted in Italy over the different treatment reserved to the Italian Mare Jonio ship compared to the German ship, Sea Watch 3. The Mare Jonio was allowed to disembark in Pozzallo 67 people rescued in the Mediterranean, while the 211 mirgrants rescued by Sea Watch were transferred to the Moby Zaza ferry where they will have to spend a period of quarantine. 

The Sea-Watch 3 was also ordered to quarantine off Porto Empedocle. 

Associations protest 

"The Sea Watch has received indications to quarantine off Porto Empedocle. We don't understand the discretional implementation only in our case'' of quarantine rules, protested Sea-Watch, vowing that ''we respected a rigorous protocol of prevention'' against the spread of the disease.

Filippo Miraglia of the Italian association of social promotion Arci, said the different rules applied to the two ships were ''difficult to explain''. 

''On June 20, the Italian-flagged Mare Jonio vessel of Mediterranea Saving Humans was able to complete rescue operations by disembarking 67 people in Pozzallo. On June 21, the rescue operation conducted by the ship run by Sea-Watch, a German NGO, could not be completed because no disembarkment was allowed: the 211 rescued people were transferred to the ship Moby Zaza, where they will have to spend another 15 days of quarantine. There is no safe port for them in Italy," said Miraglia. 

"Rescue operations are all the same and must be treated in the same way. Italian ports are a safe place to host survivors of trips at sea and all people rescued by boats - regardless of their flag," he concluded. 

Mediterranea finds body during search operation 

Meanwhile Mediterranean Saving Humans has reported that it found the body of a dead migrant at sea during a search operation. 

"During a patrol mission in the Mediterranean on June 19, some 60 miles off Lampedusa, we found a body at sea at 3:39 local time," the organization's mission chief, Luca Casarini, said.  

Casarini said his organization reported the finding to Italian and Maltese authorities. "It was the body of a poor boy dragged by sea currents, one of the thousands of people who drown in the central Mediterranean," Casarini continued. 

"It was like a warning that reminded us that death can be met at sea where there are no rescue vessels." He said rescue ships ''are blocked with a pretext and for political propaganda while people are abandoned to their fate." 

Shortly after the body was sighted, Casarini said his organization "saved 67 people who were almost certainly destined to drown," adding that his thoughts went to the boy's family ''who will not have a body to bury. Such deaths can be avoided, as we have denounced, they are victims of policies that condemn those fleeing war and torture."

The Mare Jonio vessel is currently in Pozzallo waiting to resume rescue operations at sea.

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