Italy closes ports to migrants amid COVID-19

Migrants being processed in Italy. Credit: UNHCR/ L. Senigalliesi

Italian ports can no longer be considered safe due to the COVID-19 and so cannot let migrant rescue boats dock, the Italian government declared in a statement.

The government also issued a decree on 7 April, stating that “for the entire duration of the health emergency, due to the outbreak of coronavirus, cannot guarantee the requisites needed to be classified and defined as a place of safety for the landing of people rescued from boats flying a foreign flag”.

The decree was signed by  ministers including Roberto Speranza, the minister of health. The decision comes after a non-profit sea rescue organisation, Sea-Eye, picked up 150 migrants off the coast of Libya and was reported as heading to Italy to dock.

It is unsure when the decision will be reversed as Italy is currently operating under a state of national emergency, which is set to expire on 31 July, but may be renewed. A total of 17,669 people have died from the virus in Italy and 139,422 cases of infection have been reported.

This is not, however, the first time Italy has refused to allow migrant rescue boats to dock in its ports.  In February 2019, Italy’s interior minister Matteo Salvini prohibited migrant rescue vessel Sea Watch-3 from docking at any Italian port and insisted the rescued asylum seekers and the ship’s crew could not land.

Salvini’s reasoned that Italy had already taken in too many asylum seekers and that other EU countries should share the burden.