A picture of the Azzurra ferry arriving in Lampedusa on Tuesday August 4 | Photo: ANSA / Alessandro di Meo
A picture of the Azzurra ferry arriving in Lampedusa on Tuesday August 4 | Photo: ANSA / Alessandro di Meo

The Italian authorities are trying to clear an overcrowded hotspot on Lampedusa after hundreds of migrants, mostly Tunisians, arrived in the past few days. A few hundred boarded the new quarantine ferry, the Azzurra, on Tuesday. Later though, boarding was halted due to bad weather.

Between 250 - 350 migrants boarded the ferry Azzurra at Cala Pisana on the Sicilian island of Lampedusa on August 4 in order to begin their 14 day statutory quarantine after arrival in Italy. Most of the migrants were Tunisians.

Authorities in Sicily had been waiting for the arrival of a new quarantine ferry for some time after thousands of new arrivals pushed most of their structures over capacity.

According to the Italian news agency ANSA, the Azzurra can hold up to 1,000 migrants at once, and was sent to Lampedusa by the central government in Rome in order to help ease the overcrowding in the hotspots on the island, after growing numbers of migrants made the crossing from North Africa to Italy.

Weather stops boarding

Unfortunately, according to ANSA, high winds of up to 40 knots prevented the embarkation of additional migrants who were being housed in temporary structures near the port. The regional councilor for health, Ruggero Razza, told the regional newspaper La Sicilia that there were "another 400 migrants in a hotspot" which, according to that newspaper, only has a capacity of 100.

Razza said, "I can't believe it. The quarantine boat has not even emptied the hotspot and now it is headed towards Porto Empedocle [on mainland Sicily]." Razza told La Sicilia that the boat was expected to "return on Thursday," and that he and others in authority were reduced to "hoping for bad weather because if the number of arrivals continue like this then things will get too crowded." He expressed resignation at the fact that the only thing they could now hope for was the bad weather, rather than an adequate solution to the numbers of migrants arriving. "That’s what we are left with! Hoping for bad weather!", he concluded.

New structures?

Razza was visiting Lampedusa because, according to La Sicilia, the Italian authorities are busy trying to build a new structure to test arriving migrants at the port, and he was carrying out a feasibility study in the area as to where the new facility should be situated.

On Tuesday, local Sicilian weather reports said that the sea was showing a force 4 and that the wind was expected to reach 40 knots, these conditions were expected to continue for "a few days." La Sicilia reported that in all, only about half of the 700 migrants who were meant to board the Azzurra had actually boarded.

Another tent structure on the Sicilian mainland which had been home to about 400 migrants was also emptied on Tuesday, at Porto Empedocle. The mayor of the town, Ida Carmina, told La Sicilia that she hoped that "this kind of situation would not repeat itself," because it had made things "uncomfortable" in the town. The migrants will be taken to a new structure in Caltanissetta in Sicily.Migrants disembark in the port of Lampedusa, 24 July 2020 | Photo: ReutersQuarantine and coronavirus

A video of the embarkation of migrants was posted on Russia Today Television (RUPTLY) and ANSA. It showed members of the Italian Red Cross boarding the ferry first, in order to look after the migrants on board and then the arrival of men, women and children in a series of white vans. 

According to news reports, the migrants were boarded ten at a time and then sent to different parts of the ship to await instructions. However, in the video, it looked like much larger groups ended up standing close to one another in the loading bay of the ship whilst health professionals and officials dressed in protective clothing gave them instructions.

La Sicilia reported on Wednesday that a further 10 people had tested positive for the novel coronavirus on the island, two of whom are migrants. It was not reported where these two migrants were currently staying, or how long they had been in Sicily.

The UN refugee agency UNHCR’s latest figures, from August 3, show that more than 14,000 migrants have arrived in Italy by sea this year. This is already more than the entire numbers for 2019 which reached 11,471. In 2018, a little more than 23,000 migrants arrived in Italy. The vast majority of arrivals, over 40%, are from Tunisia.


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