The Italian government has declared its seaports “unsafe” due to the coronavirus pandemic currently sweeping the country. It will no longer authorise the landing of migrant rescue boats until the emergency is lifted.
The new decree was issued on Tuesday evening as the government explained: “For the entire duration of the health emergency, due to the outbreak of coronavirus, Italian ports cannot be classified as ‘safe places’ for the landing of people rescued from boats flying a foreign flag.”
The measures are the first of its kind in the history of Italy, and appear to prevent charities and rescue boats from aiding and disembarking migrants in the coming weeks.
It comes as departures from Libya have increased in the past week as improved weathers allows for favourable crossing conditions.
The decree was signed by several of Italy’s serving ministers including interior minister Luciana Lamorgese, health minister Roberto Speranza and infrastructure minister Paola De Micheli.
It suggests that rescued migrants might include people who have contracted COVID-19.
It adds: “rescued people must be guaranteed an absence of any threat to their lives”, concluding that the Italian government at this point in time cannot guarantee the safety and security of migrants’ lives in Italy.
Little is known about what will come for migrants who have already left the shores of Libya and are mid-way through their journey.
There is currently a rescue boat, operated by the German NGO Sea-Eye, located a few miles from the Italian island of Lampedusa with 150 migrants onboard.
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The vessel, called Alan Kurdi, is named after the three-year-old Syrian boy who drowned in 2015.
It is the only NGO reduce boat operating in the central Mediterranean.
The coronavirus outbreak has forced many charities to suspend their services and focus their efforts elsewhere.
Despite the virus’ prevalence migrants are still risking their lives to cross the Mediterranean.
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In March almost 800 people left Libya, according to the UN refugee agency, UNHCR.
In the same month Italy’s foreign minister, Luigi Di Maio, admitted that the country was unable to open its ports to migrants.
During a conference call to the EU’s foreign affairs council, he said: “It’s not about wanting to be good or bad.
“Italy can’t just do it now.”
The fresh move comes in stark contrast to the far-right former interior minister Matteo Salvini, who two years ago declared Italy’s ports “closed” arguing that migrants represented a threat to national security.
Now, in a turn of events, Italy’s government has declared the country poses a threat to migrants.
Italy has been one of Europe’s worst-hit countries in the pandemic so far.
It currently has 135,586 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 17,127 deaths.
“We respect the national fate of all European countries fighting against this pandemic and especially the situation facing Italy,” said Sea-Eye’s mission manager, Jan Ribbeck.
“No state in the Mediterranean should be left alone on the question of reception of refugees in the coronavirus crisis.
“We will address our flag state if it should become necessary.”
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