Italian far right uses migrants to push coronavirus fears – Serialpressit (News)

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ROME — The coronavirus pandemic is making life even more difficult for migrants seeking a new life in Europe.

Reports of migrants testing positive for coronavirus after crossing the Mediterranean Sea have sparked concerns about their health while traveling in cramped conditions. In frontline countries such as Italy, that’s raised fears that a surge in arrivals could undermine efforts to tackle the disease — even though NGOs say such fears are largely unfounded.

Sixty-five migrants rescued from a boat and taken to Malta tested positive for coronavirus earlier this week. In Italy, recently arrived migrants have also tested positive for the virus.

Italy’s Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio told local media on Friday that, after 35,000 deaths in Italy from the virus, arrivals of migrants “constitute a national security issue.”

The Italian army has been deployed in the north to block the land border with Slovenia, and in Sicily to enforce quarantine measures after several hundred migrants fled from holding centers, the interior ministry said.

This year almost 14,000 people have arrived in Italy by boat, compared to just 3,000 in the same period in 2019.

But the government’s attempt to look tough on irregular migration was somewhat undermined after it voted on Thursday to allow former Interior Minister Matteo Salvini to stand trial over his refusal to let 164 migrants disembark from a rescue vessel last summer.

Before the vote, Salvini told news agencies: “There are thousands landing without health checks and hundreds of potentially infected illegal immigrants fleeing and dispersing around Italy. If the coronavirus comes back, those who are allowing the migrants to land will have it on their conscience.”

This year almost 14,000 people have arrived in Italy by boat, compared to just 3,000 in the same period in 2019.

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The figures have surged by 7,000 since the end of June, including increasing numbers of small boats landing on the island of Lampedusa. The island’s holding center for migrants, which normally has a capacity of 900, has seen that figure reduced to 200 because of the pandemic. As a result, it’s been overwhelmed.

In a statement, the interior ministry said the “unprecedented context” made “management of migratory flows … much more complex than in previous years.”

The right-wing opposition has sought to capitalize on the situation.

Giorgia Meloni, leader of the far-right Brothers of Italy party, told the lower house of parliament this week that “after the sacrifices made by Italians to avoid spreading the disease … it is irresponsible and crazy to allow thousands of illegal immigrants to enter, violating our borders and then breaking quarantine.”

However, international organizations point out that the current numbers fall far short of the 2014-2017 period — when as many as 26,000 people arrived by boat in a single month (September 2014) and a total of 180,000 arrived in 2016.

And international agencies dismiss any link between coronavirus and the migrant community as “propaganda.”

Overcrowded boats could put migrants at risk of contracting coronavirus, said Federico Fossi of the United Nations’ refugee agency UNHCR. “The fact that people travel in difficult conditions is a danger for them … but the numbers are very limited,” he said.

Flavio Di Giacomo of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said it was predictable that migrants would be “unfairly stigmatized.” But of the around 5,000 arrivals in Italy last month, just 1.5 percent tested positive, he said.

“There is no correlation. The far right will use whatever they find to create their anti-migrant message,” Di Giacomo said.

The Milan-based think tank ISPI said there were just three cases of the virus detected per day among migrants last month in Italy, compared to 200 a day among the general population.

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NGOs have also accused European countries of using coronavirus as an excuse to shirk their responsibilities to those crossing the Mediterranean. Few national or NGO rescue boats are on the water, leaving refugee vessels flailing perilously at sea for hours, according to the IOM.

In Greece, authorities are accused by international aid agencies of detaining migrants illegally and cutting off sick and vulnerable migrants from accommodation and stipends. Médecins Sans Frontières closed its COVID isolation center in Lesvos this week after the authorities imposed fines and threatened criminal charges over planning issues.

Some European governments have tried to implement policies that could be favorable to migrants, but they have had limited impact.

“This is not the first and it probably won’t be the last time that we and other humanitarian organizations face these types of obstacles, as we try to cover the gaps left by European and Greek authorities in assistance to migrants and refugees,” Bertand Perrochet, MSF’s director of operations, said in a statement.

“For the past five years, we have seen the terrible harm inflicted by containment policies on people trapped in reception centers across the Greek islands. Now, during a global pandemic, MSF has been prevented from responding to a public health risk that the authorities have neglected.”

Some European governments have tried to implement policies that could be favorable to migrants, but they have had limited impact.

In Portugal, the government gave refugees and migrants temporary citizenship rights, but the policy ended on July 30. Italy had an amnesty for undocumented farmworkers and carers, allowing them to gain legal status but its implementation has been limited because of the number of conditions attached.

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The post Italian far right uses migrants to push coronavirus fears appeared first on Politico.

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