Illegal migration from North Africa to Italy slows to a trickle but still continues

The Italian government has also closed ports to charity boats for the entire duration of the national health emergency.
Sunday 12/04/2020
German migrant rescue NGO members on a rubber boat during an operation to rescue people from a small wooden boat in distress off the Libyan coast, on April 6. (Reuters)
German migrant rescue NGO members on a rubber boat during an operation to rescue people from a small wooden boat in distress off the Libyan coast, on April 6. (Reuters)

TUNIS--The flow of illegal migration from North Africa to Italy has slowed down very much since the COVID-19 outbreak but smaller boats have continued to trickle to Italian shores.

A dinghy carrying about 100 migrants arrived at the Sicilian town of Pozzallo on April 12, local authorities said. Its port of origin was not immediately disclosed.

Confinement measures on the North African coast and fear of the pandemic in Italy seems to be dissuading most would-be migrants from undertaking the illegal journey across the Mediterranean.

The Italian government has also closed ports to charity boats for the entire duration of the national health emergency over the coronavirus, a ban due to remain in effect until July 31.

Italian authorities on April 12 ordered migrants aboard a rescue ship off its coast to be quarantined on another vessel to test them for the coronavirus instead of allowing them to disembark.

The Alan Kurdi, run by the German non-governmental group Sea-Eye, is sailing in international waters off the western coast of Sicily.

The transport ministry said in a statement those on board will be transferred to another ship, screened by health authorities and quarantined on that ship.

The transport ministry statement said allowing the migrants to disembark would put too much pressure on already stretched health services in Sicily. It gave no details on the planned transfer, its timing or location.

After a relative lull in arrivals of boat migrants in Italy, numbers had started to pick up again in the first two months of the year, only to fall back sharply in March as Italy was hit by the epidemic.

In the meanwhile, migrants and temporary workers from sub-Saharan Africa some of whom occasionally try to cross the Mediterranean, are finding themselves in precarious situation in the Maghreb.

Stranded amid the pandemic, many are struggling to return to their countries of origin or to find help with local governments and charities.

(With news agencies)