The Italian government has declared its sea ports “unsafe” due to the coronavirus pandemic and will not authorize the landing of lifeboats for migrants until the end of the emergency.
In a decree issued Tuesday, the government wrote that “for the entire duration of the health emergency, due to the outbreak of the coronavirus, Italian ports cannot be classified as” safe places “for the landing of people rescued by boats that they fly the flag abroad “.
The measure – the first of its kind in Italian history – appeared designed to prevent rescue boats from disembarking migrants in the coming weeks, as departures from Libya have increased in recent days with the arrival of good weather.
The decree, signed by Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese, Health Minister Roberto Speranza and Infrastructure Minister Paola De Micheli, also suggests that rescued migrants could include people who contracted Covid-19.
He adds that “the rescued people must be guaranteed the absence of any threat to their lives” and concludes that at this moment the government cannot guarantee the safety of the lives of migrants in Italy.
The government decree comes after the rescue ship Alan Kurdi, managed by the German NGO Sea-Eye, rescued around 150 people and is now located a few kilometers from the Italian island of Lampedusa.
Alan Kurdi, named after the three-year-old Syrian boy who drowned in 2015, is currently the only NGO rescue ship operating in the central Mediterranean. The coronavirus epidemic has forced many charitable organizations to focus their aid efforts elsewhere.
Despite fears of the virus, migrants are still risking their lives to cross the Mediterranean: nearly 800 people left Libya in March, according to the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR.
In March, Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio said during a teleconference to the EU Foreign Affairs Council that the country was unable to open its ports to migrants. “It’s not about wanting to be good or bad,” said Di Maio. “Italy cannot do it now.”
In 2018 former far-right ex-interior minister Matteo Salvini declared Italian ports “closed” to migrant rescue ships, arguing that migrants posed a threat to national security. Two years later, the Italian government stated that the country poses a threat to the health of migrants due to the coronavirus.
Italy has so far been one of the countries most affected by the pandemic in Europe, with 135,586 coronavirus cases and 17,127 deaths.
“We respect the national destiny of all European countries that fight against this pandemic and in particular the situation in Italy,” said Jan Ribbeck, head of the Sea-Eye mission.
“No state in the Mediterranean should be left alone on the issue of refugee reception in the coronavirus crisis. We will turn to our flag state should it become necessary. “
On Tuesday, the RAI of the Italian public broadcaster reported that it said that the NGO “has already asked the German government to intervene by sending a plane to evacuate the 150 people on board”.
According to the NGO, at least 150 German cities are ready to welcome rescued migrants.