Covid-19 has given a new twist to the migration debate in Italy: it is now not only about cultural differences and work, but also about life and death.
On Sunday and Monday, dozens of clandestine migrants, who arrived in Italy from Tunisia and Libya, managed to escape from reception centers in Sicily. They should have been quarantined there for two weeks.
Mayors in Sicily raised the alarm that their citizens no longer feel safe, even though authorities swore that all migrants had been tested and found negative. This feeds intolerance and racism, Caltanissetta Mayor Roberto Gambino wrote to the Secretary of the Interior. 184 people escaped from the shelter into the city on Sunday. 140 of them have been arrested again.
Minister Luciana Lamorgese then decided to send soldiers to the reception centers. She also pulled an earlier plan out of the drawer to quarantine undocumented migrants who have been tested negative on ferries off the coast of Sicily and the small island of Lampedusa.
More than 12,000 migrants
More than 12,000 migrants arrived by sea in southern Italy this year. More than a third of them are from Tunisia, where the pandemic has exacerbated the social and economic crisis. Five thousand people arrived this month alone. It is striking that many are not on rubber boats, but on safer wooden, steel or polyester boats. For example, a relaxed group of men and women arrived in Lampedusa on Sunday, as was evident from many shared photos, poodle, straw hat, sunglasses and striking jewelry.
The escapes and the feeling that the cabinet does not know how to deal with the regrowth of migrants is grist to the mill of Matteo Salvini of the right-wing nationalist party Lega. His main theme is resistance to migration. The Lega leader is struggling to stay in the spotlight in the corona crisis, and after the Brussels agreement on the EU Recovery Fund, he was left alone in his criticism of French / German bureaucrats who want to shrink Italian industry . But after the escapes and the woman with the poodle, his propaganda machine fires a burst of social media messages.
Discomfort is growing within the coalition. The two coalition partners, the Five Star Movement and the center-left Democratic party, have passed the difficult migration file to the party-less minister Lamorgese. Many more boats with picked-up migrants are allowed under her, but she has not been able to solve the problem of reception. The centers in Caltanissetta and Porto Empedocle from which migrants have fled have far more people than they were designed for. Moreover, it is often very hot.
Lamorgese spoke to President Kais Saied on Monday in Tunis and offered him more economic aid. Rome has a return agreement with Tunis, which in practice amounts to about fifty people a week.
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