In times of the pandemic human rights are put under quarantine as well

The pandemic turned reality upside down. The Italians could forget everything else and concentrate on the slogan ‘stay home’, on the daily hoisting of the Italian flag and, on the songs from the various balconies on duty: finally, a country united in suffering.


The ship Alan Kurdi –

It is hard to remember that quarantine at home is a privilege only for those who have a home and that ‘everything will be fine’ solely applies for the few whose only problem is the domestic lockdown.

We were suddenly reminded of the fact that we are indeed not all in the same boat as, what is usually the problem no. 1 for Italians and what we thought of having contained, migration, returned – now, we use Covid-19 as a deterrent.  

The return of the beautiful season retrieved the question of migration once again, with the disembarkations of the last couple of weeks and the usual level of polarization which is to blame on the disinformation reigning confidently within the Italian public opinion.

During the last week, approximately thousand people tried to flee from Libya where war is raging. As Alarm Phone has noticed, half of them were intercepted by the so-called Libyan Coastguard and taken back to the hell they were trying to escape from.

Following the example of Italy, Malta has declared itself an unsafe port and has done everything possible in order to prevent these small boats from reaching its own coast. The Maltese have been accused of sabotage by Alarm Phone after turning a small boat adrift for six days straight with the excuse of not knowing its position. Evidence is a recorded phone call obtained from this very boat.

The Maltese authorities had reported the boat to Libya. Libya then located the ship in international waters. In fact, it was an unlawful rejection to a precarious country at war.   

All this, however, is not enough to stop the escape from Libya and the subsequent arrivals on the Italian coast. It is just as pointless as the proclamations of Salvini regarding the so-called closed ports, because several boats managed to reach the coast of Lampedusa on their own: the migrants on board have been taken to Porto Empedocle. After having spent days under a stretched-out tent roof in the harbour, they have been relocated to Villa Sikania. The facility – actually closed but reopened due to the emergency – is administrated by a cooperative called Cometa which has already been reported for serious deficiencies in services and the violation of fundamental rights.

Others have been transferred to the facility ‘San Pietro’ located in Comiso which had already been used during the ‘emergency of disembarkations’ six years ago as an unregulated branch of the Pozzallo hotspot  (at that time a CPSA*).

In the meantime, after a sudden transfer of the migrants present in the center, another 100 people have been transferred to Pozzallo. Among them a boy who seems to be tested positive for Covid-19.

It is questionable how a hotspot, where there has never been enough space to keep people at a distance, can be used as a place for quarantine; large rooms separated by gender where the beds are as close as the number of people present demands. Even in ‘normal’ times, these locations cannot be called health-promoting, especially for those who had encountered the Libyan camps and the insecurities at sea. Even less now so since we experience a persistent pandemic.

And indeed, the solution provided for the migrants who have been rescued by Alan Kurdi on April 6th, is to use ships for the time of quarantine. Yesterday, charge of the food has been taken and the migrants were brought aboard a ferry from Tirrenia. For the period of isolation, the ship will be anchored offshore of Palermo.

As if it was unknown that ships are one of the worst places to contain the risk of infection; as if the example of the cruise ship Diamond Princess, where the number of people infected with Covid-19 has doubled every day, is not already a demonstration of how an attempt like this could turn into hell. However, for the local and national administration it is not the health of the people which counts but benefits for future elections.

This recommendation is even perceived as an innovative idea! However, as early as 2011, the region of Sicily already tried to lock people up on ships, onto the so-called floating deportation detention centers (CIE*) – actual prison ships moored at Sicilian ports in anticipation of deporting migrants to other precarious ports.

It does not differ significantly from the strategy of pressure applied to civil SAR initiatives operating at the Med. For 1,5 years already, NGO ships have been confronted with a norm of being forced to wait for more than 10 days at sea until they are assigned a port to dock.

This is resembling a strategy of the 15th century when those who were claimed crazy and mad had been lock up on ships. Solely allowed to roam the rivers and seas of Europe, these people should be prevented from entering our society which would have spread the madness – or, in this case, the intermingling of ethnic groups. This is the only real disease that Europe is displaying eagerly.   

On one side of the Mediterranean: war and isolation; on the other: exclusion and exploitation. For people on the run, solely the sea remains as a route to escape, as a route to marginalization and, for many, a route to death. While we wait for the only truly pandemic disease in Europe to be eradicated: xenophobia.


Giuseppe Platania
Borderline Sicilia


Translated by Marah Frech


*CPSA: Centro di primo soccorso e accoglienza – First aid and reception center
*CIE: Centro di identificazione ed espulsione – Identification and deportation center

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