After several days at sea, the 116 migrants rescued by the Ocean Viking at the end of last week and over the weekend have disembarked in the Sicilian port of Augusta. Six persons tested positive for COVID-19.
There was "relief on board" the Ocean Viking on March 23, when the crew and the rescue organization SOS Mediterranee got the message that they had been assigned a port in which to disembark the 116 migrants.
According to SOS Mediterranee, the weather had been rough with "strong wind and high waves." In total, the Ocean Viking crew had made five requests for a port of safety to the Italian and Maltese authorities before being assigned the port of Augusta on Sicily.
On Tuesday night, SOS Mediterranee tweeted that disembarkation had been completed.
"All 116 rescued people, including 51 unaccompanied minors, were tested for COVID-19 by Italian health authorities," the tweet explained. According to the local Italian newspaper La Sicilia, the 51 unaccompanied minors had been taken to a center in Trapani, the adults will be asked to quarantine on board the ferry Allegra and those who tested positive will be put into isolation.
Europe needs to 'shoulder its burden'
The undersecretary of state at the Italian interior ministry, Nicola Molteni, from the right-wing League (La Lega) party, requested that all those disembarking be distributed to other European countries, according to another Italian online journal Fanpage.it, which has its base in the city of Naples.
Fanpage.it quoted Molteni as saying: "Europe needs to shoulder its burden as yet another NGO steams its way towards Sicily with 116 migrants on board. It is really important that we achieve a reasoned balance between responsibility and solidarity. The Ocean Viking is run by SOS Mediterranee, flying a Norwegian flag, it is a Franco-German NGO, and it left from the French port of Marseilles, so it can’t just be a case which Italy is expected to sort."
Molteni posted a similar thesis on his own Twitter profile on March 14, in which he said "let’s roll back the upward trend on the number of migrant arrivals." Molteni added that it wasn’t fair to expect Italians to "make sacrifices" and then "allow thousands of immigrants to disembark in Italy."
The politician added that when his party was in power in 2019 in the first two months of that year there had been "just 335 migrants arriving, compared to 2,610 in the same time period in 2020 and 5,996 this year."
The right-wing press, like the newspaper Il Giornale, has also been reporting on the latest disembarkation, trying to link the few positive cases of COVID to alarm among the Sicilian population and the fear of being infected with new variants. According to Il Giornale, on Tuesday a Nigerian migrant "escaped from a welcome center in Messina" and when tested was found to be infected with Coronavirus. Il Giornale said it was "one of the most rare variants of Sars Cov 2," without clarifying which one that might be.
According to La Sicilia, most of the migrants who disembarked from the Ocean Viking came from countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, but about ten of them were also originally from Libya.
Coronavirus and Sicily
According to the Italian Ministry of Health's latest statistics from March 23 for Sicily, 751 new cases were registered on the island in the last 24 hours to March 23. This was a slight rise on the figures from the day before which stood at 666 new cases in 24 hours.
Overall in Italy, the numbers are on the rise again and the government has put over half of the country's 20 regions back into a lockdown in an attempt to halt the spread of the third wave of the virus. Many children are back learning from home and curfews on opening hours and leaving the house in some regions too have been tightened up.
Two days ago, the mayor of the Sicilian city Palermo, Leoluca Orlando, said that numbers were going down again in his part of the island and that he would start to look at which of the current restrictions could be relaxed.
However, Italy's Minister of Health, Roberto Speranza, signed a new decree at the weekend which came into effect on Monday 22, placing most of Italy's regions either in an "orange" or a "red" zone, meaning more closures and restrictions. Sicily is currently in the orange zone, like much of the south of the country. That means, according to Fanpage.it that some schools can remain open there but bars and restaurants are closed, or only open for takeaway.
People living in the orange zone must stay within their own local area (comune). Over Easter, the whole country will be placed in a red zone which will severely restrict movements and the number of people you can meet with or visit.