An Italian police officer looks at a migrant standing in a field in Sicily as others are detained after being found along the road. Photo: Sandro Catanese/AFP
Hundreds continue to arrive daily in southern Italy, especially on theislands of Lampedusa and Sicily, and exasperated local mayors have said they cannot keep up given lingering coronavirus concerns.
On Monday, dozens of migrants slipped out of a windowless tent set up by a civil protection unit in Porto Empedocle on Sicily's western coast.
The migrants had been sent there to sit out a 14-day quarantine after arriving in the country.
The tent, set up to accomodate 100 people, was packed with more than 500 migrants, news media reported.
The interior ministry said in a statement that most of the migrants had been found, and none of those tested so far were carrying the coronavirus.
Earlier, Porto Empedocle Mayor Ida Carmina – who has previously said the presence of migrants could undermine the tourism sector – decried inhumane conditions at the quarantine facility and called on the government and European Commission to intervene.
On Facebook, Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio said it was “inconceivable” that anyone would flout quarantine rules.
“Migrants or not, if they were Italian, I would have said the same thing. This is a public health issue here. The virus hasn't disappeared,” Di Maio wrote on Facebook.
Migrants wearing protective facemasks on board the humanitarian aid boat Ocean Viking on July 6th. Photo: AFP
Di Maio said police had already tracked down 125 of the 184 migrants who escaped on Sunday from a facility in Caltanissetta in central Sicily.
Other migrant escapes had occurred elsewhere in Sicily as well, regional president Nello Musumeci said.
“I demand respect for Sicily, it cannot be treated like a colony,” he wrote on Facebook.
“We have shown our willingness and ask for reciprocity, but we see that in the management of the migratory phenomenon there is too much improvisation and superficiality.”
Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese told Musumeci the government would deploy a navy ship “in the next few days” to serve as a quarantine facility for migrants, a ministry statement said.
Also on Monday, Lamorgese met with Tunisian President Kais Saied and Interior Minister Hichem Mechichi in Carthage and expressed “strong Italian concerns” about the recent influx of migrants from Tunisia, it added.
Tunisia's fragile economy has been battered by border closures due to the coronavirus pandemic and many Tunisians are frustrated by high unemployment and recent political turmoil.
Of the 11,191 migrants who have landed in Italy as of July 24, more than 5,200 left from Tunisia and nearly 4,000 are Tunisian citizens, the ministry said.
“Especially with the continuing Covid-19 pandemic, these uncontrolled flows create serious problems related to national health security that inevitably affect the local communities,” the ministry said.
“Among other things, Tunisian migrants in particular try to leave any way they can before the end of the mandatory quarantine period,” it added.
Recent arrivals have sparked local protests, particularly after a few dozen migrants tested positive for COVID-19 earlier this month.