Floating hotspots, infinite quarantine, and rejections: how Italy is walking all over international conventions

On Thursday 7th May, we received news that the commissioner of Agrigento had arranged the deferred expulsion of around twenty people who, after quarantining at the hotspot in Lampedusa, had been transferred to Porto Empedocle.  

The migrants, some of whom were women, wandered through the streets of Agrigento all night, and the local population, alarmed at seeing people on the streets with bags in hand, flooded police switchboards with protests.


Contrada ImbriacolaThe hotspot of Contrada Imbriacola, Lampedusa - Photo by Silvia Di Meo

We have denounced the frequent and illegal practice of deferred expulsions numerous times over the years. These expulsions come accompanied by the generic and abstract order to leave Italy within seven days, obstructing access to procedures for international protection and putting people out on the road who are often vulnerable, and after a short time become invisible and fall into a life of crime and exploitation. In light of the current situation we are experiencing due to Covid-19, all of this takes on an even greater weight.

During the quarantine period within the hotspot, operators from humanitarian associations did not have access and the migrants did not receive information on protection policy. For the remaining 116 people, who have been stuck at Contrada Imbriacola for more than a month, and others who spent at least two nights on the pier at Lampedusa, the journey continues towards central Italy, where they will spend the next months in facilities in Tuscany, Umbria and Marche. 

The existing facilities in Sicily are full, and in some areas the discontent of the population is increasing. This was the case last week in Grotte, where an extraordinary reception centre (CAS*) was opened to quarantine migrants. Complaints from citizens and mayors disappear, however, when refugees stay in shacks in the countryside around Agrigento for the picking season. In those cases, the extra pairs of hands are convenient and it is better to let everything slide in silence. Not to mention the people who arrive directly on the Trapani and Agrigento coasts without being intercepted, whose tracks are quickly lost, despite the Libyan sentries.

These are people who do not quarantine in a floating prison, people who do not get swabs done, but find themselves in cities and the countryside, as pairs of hands to exploit. 

The situation is no better for those who arrived some time ago, but today must put up with the contradictions and abuses of the current times, as per the testimony of a social worker from Palermo: “In the last two months, in the CAS in Palermo there have been various registered cases of people hospitalised for TSO (Compulsory health treatment). Social distancing due to the coronavirus emergency has profoundly affected the most vulnerable people and those with pre-existing psychological problems. Despite various reports to the prefecture and central services, we had no answers for these people, some of whom had a valid residence permit but who were left and abandoned in the CAS anyway under the eyes of the competent authorities, until today. These people should be transferred to appropriate locations, where they can receive the right treatments and not be constantly sedated and shushed as if they were in psychiatric hospitals. Locations where they could take an autonomous path and start working to break out of the vicious circle which the institutions themselves are condemning them to”. 

These days, with the current emergency keeping us at home, the government continues to divulge perfect continuity with the policies of the previous government. No difference, apart from the tone used, between the previous and current Minister of Internal Affairs. The decisions towards removing fundamental rights are identical. 

As soon as regular landings started up again and the Libyans waited for a chance to hold Europe to the usual ransom, what did the Italian government do? It attacks rights and seizes the remaining active humanitarian ships: the Aita Mari and the Alan Kurdi, the only ships which have pulled hundreds of refugees out of death’s clutches, and which, precisely for this reason, are accused of irregularities and of putting the people they save in danger.

Governments take over from each over, but the line doesn’t change and here again politicians are losing a chance to do something right with some regularisation. It is politics which, as always, sacrifices workers and the poor, both Italian and foreign, to please big business.

And the most worrying thing is the decisions passed in silence which nobody tells us about, even in this particularly delicate phase for all citizens. Indeed, it has been decided that military spending should be increased to 26.5 billion euro – the highest figure ever recorded – and approximately 6 billion euro allocated to new armaments.

Not for hospitals or medical professions, for schools or justice, no – for weapons. Money which we citizens contribute and which politicians put in the hands of the warmongers, who get increasingly richer, with weapons which we deliver to the Libyans or some African dictator, resulting in the flight of people who we prefer to see dead at sea.

The situation is dramatic, and what is most terrifying about Covid-19 is the social instability, which is being created, the conflicts in neighbourhoods, the increase of marginalisation.

As Trump says, we have to reopen, otherwise the economic and financial system will collapse, and it matters little whether there will be more deaths: the poor are dispensable.

The idea is the same here in Italy too, otherwise it would be impossible to explain why many migrants were left in ghettos to pick fruit and vegetables to fill our supermarket shelves. Their pay is steadily decreasing, while the fruit and vegetables cost more and more to the consumer.

The cancellation of rights is a fact and in Italy we are sinking further and further into an abyss. It is time to open our eyes and urgently restore rights for fundamental social cohesion for the future of this country.


Alberto Biondo
Borderline Sicilia


*CAS: Centro di accoglienza straordinaria – Extraordinary reception centre


Translated from Italian by Orsina Dessi

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