Sicily can’t shut down migrant detention centres, Italian court rules

An Italian court Thursday slapped down a decree issued by Sicily's regional governor Nello Musumeci ordering the closure of migrant centres on the island.

Sicily can't shut down migrant detention centres, Italian court rules
Photo: AFP
The Sicilian regional administrative court approved an appeal lodged by the central government in Rome for Sunday's decree to be scrapped, the AGI news agency reported.
Musumeci has clashed with officials in Rome over the issue, but anti-migrant opposition League party leader Matteo Salvini praised the move ahead of local elections next month.
The Sicilian leader had ordered that all migrants on the island's “hot spots” and reception centres be transferred to facilities outside the island.
Musumeci's decree also banned any migrant from “entering, transiting and stopping over on the Sicilian region's territory with vessels big and small, including those belonging to charities.”
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A migrant detention centre in Sicily. Photo: AFP
But the court disagreed, saying “there was no rigorous investigation to demonstrate that the spread of Covid-19 was worsening among the local population because of the migration phenomenon.”
Sicily has no real means to transfer migrants outside the island, and interior ministry officials say migration is legally a central government prerogative.
The measures announced by Musumeci, who was elected on a right-wing ticket, “seemed to go beyond the scope of the powers conferred upon regions,” in
managing the coronavirus crisis, the court said.
Migration has for years been a hot-button political issue in Italy, a main EU landing point for people crossing the Mediterranean and arriving in Sicily and sister island Lampedusa.
People from Libya arrive on the Sicilian island of Lampedusa on July 31st, 2020. Photo: AFP
The court will now convene again on September 17 at Sicily's request which is planning to present new evidence to boost its case.
While dozens of migrants hosted in detention centres in Sicily have tested positive for Covid-19, health officials say the spread is due to conditions at the centres which are overcrowded with migrants who have been arriving daily by the hundreds in recent weeks.
From August 1st last year to July 31st this year, over 21,600 migrants arrived at Italy's shores – almost 150 percent more than the near 8,700 landings the year before, according to official data.
Despite the sharp rise, the number of migrant arrivals is still far below numbers recorded in recent years, especially before Rome signed a deal with Libya for its coast guard to prevent migrant departures.

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Elections: Italy’s Lampedusa residents ‘left behind’ by migration focus

Italy's politicians are visiting Lampedusa to promise an end to migrant arrivals, but many living on the island say their other concerns go unheard.

Elections: Italy's Lampedusa residents 'left behind' by migration focus

“It’s just words, words,” complains Pino D’Aietti, who like many residents of the tiny island of Lampedusa feels abandoned by Italy’s politicians – except when a surge in migrant arrivals makes the headlines.

The 78-year-old retired plumber is sitting outside a restaurant on the island, where anti-immigration leader Matteo Salvini has spent the past two days as part of his campaign for upcoming elections on September 25th.

Located between Sicily and Tunisia, Lampedusa is known for its beaches and turquoise waters, but also as the landing point for thousands of migrants on boats from north Africa.

On Thursday, Salvini visited the island’s migrant reception centre where as many as 1,500 mostly young men were packed in a facility meant for 350.

But while the League leader makes immigration the cornerstone of his election campaign, there is a sense of disillusionment here; an island of just 6,000 residents out in the middle of the Mediterranean.

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“We have the most expensive fuel, the (water) purifier hasn’t worked for a long time, there is no hospital,” railed D’Aietti, as tourists in swimsuits browsed shops nearby.

“We are spare parts. When the tourists go, the rubbish we eat! It’s disgusting. And who defends us?”

League Leader Matteo Salvini enjoys a boat ride while visiting the southern Italian Pelagie Island of Lampedusa for his election campaign on August 5th, 2022. Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP

The lack of healthcare is a recurrent theme.

“We have specialists and that’s it. For anything else we have to go onto the mainland,” said 58-year-old Maria Garito.

Mayor Filippo Mannino admits healthcare is a problem, but tells AFP: “The municipality has limited means, it is up to the state to take charge.”

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He has also called for more help from Rome – and the European Union – to help manage the number of migrants, which often becomes unmanageable in the summer months when calmer seas cause a surge in new arrivals.

Not far from the town hall, at the end of an isolated road, is the so-called hotspot, the immigration reception centre.

It is protected by steel gates, but those inside can be seen whiling away the hours in a few shady spots.

The government last week agreed to lay on a special ferry to transfer migrants three times a week to Sicily, and AFP reporters this week saw hundreds boarding a boat.

People at a migrant processing centre on the island of Lampedusa on August 4th, 2022. Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP

Few get to sample the delights of Lampedusa – unlike Salvini, who was pictured in his swimsuit in a pleasure boat off the island on Friday.

Although the locals prefer not to talk about migrants, prejudice is an issue here.

Ibrahima Mbaye, a 43-year-old Senegalese man who arrived here on a French visa three years ago, said “there are good people but half the people are racist, you feel it”.

He has been working as a fisherman, but says it has not been easy – and nor is it for those who arrive illegally.

“They think that Italy is their future, but when they arrive they’re disappointed. They understand that it’s not easy to earn money,” he told AFP.

As for the tourists on holiday on Lampedusa, many are either unaware or willing to turn a blind eye.

“We read about it in the newspapers but we really don’t feel it,” said fifty-something Dino, who has been coming here every summer for ten years.

The two faces of Lampedusa “are two separate things”, he adds.

By AFP’s Clément Melki