A ship carrying 267 migrants arrived from Tunisia on the Italian island of Lampedusa over the weekend | Source: Moonbird
A ship carrying 267 migrants arrived from Tunisia on the Italian island of Lampedusa over the weekend | Source: Moonbird

On Sunday, July 12, Italian newspapers reported that a total of 791 migrants disembarked on Lampedusa and Sicily over the previous 48 hours. The governor of the Sicilian region has called on the federal government to call a state of emergency with hotspots above capacity and a number of migrants testing positive for coronavirus.

The majority of the 791 migrants who reportedly disembarked on Lampedusa and Sicily over the last few days came from Tunisia, Italian newspaper Il Fatto Quotidiano stated. That newspaper said the latest arrivals brought the total number of arrivals of migrants for the first half of July to 1,137 which is an increase on last year's full July total of 1,088.

It was unclear which boats had made it to the island under their own steam and which had been brought in by the Italian authorities. The numbers of arrivals reported also range between just under 600 to just under 800. In the text of articles reporting almost 800 arrivals they appeared to add the 100+ arrivals on Sunday to an estimated 600 who were already being housed in a hotspot on Lampedusa. It is unclear whether all those people actually arrived in the last few days though.Tunisian migrants aboard a boat entering the port of Lampedusa | Photo: ANSA/DesiderioOn Friday, UN migration agency IOM had already confirmed the arrival of more than 500 migrants on Lampedusa, news agency Agence France Presse AFP reported. Then more migrants arrived over the weekend according to local Sicilian newspaper La Sicilia, which reported 107 people arriving on Lampedusa on Sunday, July 12.

According to AFP, nine boats arrived on Thursday, July 9 from Tunisia "carrying a total of 116 people on board." Another 434 people arrived on Friday spread across seven boats from Tunisia and "two larger boats from Libya." One of the boats from Libya held 267 people and the other 95, "mostly carrying people from Bangladesh," IOM told AFP.

The organization Alarm Phone which monitors boats arriving in the Mediterranean tweeted pictures of the boat carrying 267 people on board.

A video made by Local Team showed the arrival of one boat coming into port accompanied by the Italian authorities.
Calls for a 'State of Emergency'

The governor of the Sicilian region Nello Musemeci has called on the federal government in Rome to declare a "state of emergency" after a number of the recent arrivals tested positive for coronavirus.

His fellow center-right governor in the neighboring region of Calabria, at the tip of the boot of Italy, has reiterated this request after 13 Pakistani migrants tested positive, but asymptomatic, after their arrival in the region. The Calabrian governor also called for a similar quarantine ship to be moored off their shores, saying that the local structures were not equipped to deal with another COVID-19 outbreak and that she needed to protect the local population.

La Sicilia speculated that Italy was experiencing more Pakistanis arriving by boat because of the ban the country had placed on arrivals by plane due to the coronavirus. La Sicilia said that meant that some were choosing to fly into Turkey and then approach Italy by boat.

Sicily and Calabria are among some of the poorest regions in Italy, although they fared better than the richer north during the COVID-19 outbreak in terms of infection rates and death tolls.

'Explain your strategy'

Governor Musemeci also called on the Italian interior minister, Luciana Lamorgese to "explain the strategy she intended to adopt in order to protect Sicilians," with regards to quarantine measures for arriving migrants. After inspecting the region, Musemeci said he had been "forced to telephone the mayor of Lampedusa in order to reassure him."

Musemeci was quoted in La Sicilia saying that his administration had already sent blood tests and swabs to Lampedusa and "a machine that produced results in 20 minutes." He then asked for the interior minister to confirm whether or not they were testing migrants before they were being moved around the island from one hotspot to the next.The Lampedusa hotspot | Photo: ANSAMusemeci continued asking the interior minister what the protocols should be for the impending arrival of a boat carrying 60 migrants in Pozzallo Sicily. "Who will take the swabs? Where are they going to quarantine?" he asked, saying the answers hadn't yet been made clear to him.

He further said "Rome's silence had become untenable" and that it was "undermining the cooperation that Conte had promised." Musemeci concluded calling on the government in Rome to: "Sort yourselves out!" Saying that he didn't want the regions to have to try and mop up the grave omissions in Rome’s policy.

New quarantine ship expected

According to La Sicilia, another ferry is on its way to Sicily to act as a quarantine ship. The paper also wrote that the structures now being used to quarantine migrants who have recently arrived will be "strengthened."

However, local newspapers have reported that some of these hotspots were holding over 600 people in a structure with a capacity of 95. Even after various transfers, Il Giornale di Sicilia reported, there were almost 200 people remaining in one hotspot on Lampedusa.

Matteo Salvini, the leader of the right-wing La Lega party, who pursued a strong anti-migrant policy when he was in office as the Interior minister and deputy Prime Minister, called Rome's handling of the issue "madness."

He added that Prime Minister Conte was going to bring down the country with his migrant policy. In tweets on Monday, July 13, Salvini said the government "wasn't capable of defending Italian borders and asked were they complicit or just incapable?"

Migrant arrivals

Salvini appeared to inflate the numbers of arrival, claiming in a tweet that "more than 900 had arrived" just on Saturday and Sunday and said that since the beginning of the year, more than triple the numbers had arrived compared to the same time frame when he was in government, even with the four month shut down due to the coronavirus.

According to UNHCR's figures which were updated on July 8 -- just before the latest arrivals over the weekend -- a total of 7,330 migrants have arrived in Italy by sea this year. That’s compared to 11,471 in the whole of 2019.

Flavio di Giacomo, spokesperson for the IOM in Italy, told AFP that although numbers of arrivals "were increasing compared to last year" they were "still low compared to two years ago, not to mention three or four years ago." He said that the numbers arriving this weekend didn’t represent a "warning sign" of an imminent sharp increase.

Di Giacomo said numbers were "impossible to forecast because the decision to leave, and the possibility of being able to do so relies on too many changing factors."


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