The virus doesn’t stop migrants landing in Europe. Indeed, in Italy, one of the main landing countries, they increased significantly during the time of the pandemic. The data from the Ministry of Internal affairs leaves no room for interpretation, indicating at least 400% more today in comparison with the end of August 2019. 17,054 refugees have landed since January 1st to August 25th, compared to the 4,826 in the same period from 2019. This is despite the fact that NGO boats, identified as an important “pull factor” by many authorities, have been blocked in ports for weeks with the excuse of administrative detention. In the opinion of the port authorities who imposed the blockade, the refugees that these ships collected at sea increased the number of passengers beyond the permitted boat capacity. A masterpiece of hypocrisy. What was the alternative? Rescue the migrants until the allotted places were exhausted and let the rest of the castaways drown?
Since July there has been a massive exodus from Tunisia, a fragile democracy that is unable to manage the profound economic crisis that the country is experiencing. Every day dozens of boats with a minimum of 4-5 people and a maximum of 20 on board arrive in dribs and drabs on the Sicilian and Calabrian coasts. Others come from half-sunk dinghies that cover the Libyan coastline and whose patrol boats let pass, just to feed panic and fear into the European host countries such as Italy, which, among other things, finance the reconnaissance of the coasts of their military boats.
In the era of coronavirus emergency, the Italian government has prepared serological tests for all those who disembark from the vessels intercepted by the coast guard. For those who believe that these refugees increase the risk of contagion, the data speaks otherwise. Of the more than 1,400 migrants collected at sea in mid-July, only one migrant tested positive for the serological test, but then, on the swab test, it was negative. As the days go by, the very low average of infections among migrants seems to find miraculous confirmation, contrary to what some people might think. It must be said that some of the more hot headed migrants fled quarantine obligations, escaping from the places where they were forced to stay. It should also be said that for all tourists who arrive in Lampedusa, the beautiful Sicilian island which has always been the first refuge for refugees due to its proximity to Libya, there is no anti-covid checkpoint at the airport.
In the last month, infections have also increased among migrants, thanks to forced cohabitation in extremely cramped quarters, designed for 120 people but which house more than a thousand people, these occurrences happen in Lampedusa, Pozzallo and other centers in Sicily. The dozens of cases of positive refugees have greatly alarmed the population by suggesting to the regional president, Nello Musumeci, to order the closure of these centers. The government opposed this decision and, through the mouth of the minister of Internal affairs, recalled that such a provision is the responsibility of the central executive power, and not of the local government.
A crackdown, however, has been imposed on those arriving from Romania, Bulgaria, Greece and Croatia. Also in the two first countries, the growing number of infections has forced the adoption of obligatory quarantine measures for those who work in Italy (and in Europe). These are mostly people who move for business. Romanian and Bulgarian caregivers are the most numerous in Italy, along with Russian and Ukrainian ones. Many Eastern European workers in Italy come to work as masons and farm workers. Another group of migrants particularly struck by the Italian precautionary measures are those arriving from Bangladesh and other countries of South East Asia, which have been particularly besieged by the virus. It happened in early July, when dozens of Bangladeshis tested positive at covid-19 at normal airport checks. The event alarmed the large expatriate community that live in Italy, which alone in Rome is estimated to be made up of 35 thousand people, most of whom are employed in the restaurant and hospitality industry.
In short, now that lockdown is only a memory, nobody in Italy wants to fall back into it. That’s the reason why the attention is at a maximum. It’s a pity that excessively heavy treatment gets adopted towards the poor people who are collected every day at sea and in airports. The virus also seems rather prominent from rich countries like the USA, which has obligatory quarantine measures issued throughout Europe, due to the high number of infections that occur every day.