Italy closes ports to migrant vessels


Italian ports cannot be considered safe because of the coronavirus epidemic and charity migrant boats will not be allow to dock government ruled.

The decision follows after a ship operated by the German non-governmental group Sea-Eye picked up 150 people off Libya and set course for Italy.

“For the duration of the national health emergency caused by the spread of the COVID-19 virus, Italian ports cannot guarantee the requisites necessary to be classified and defined as a place of safety,” the decree said.

The national emergency is set to expire on July 31, but the deadline might be extended.

Tuesday’s order was signed by the interior and transport ministers, as well as Health Minister Roberto Speranza, from a leftist party that supports campaigns for migrant protection and charity operations.

After a lull in arrivals of boat migrants from Africa, numbers started to pick up in the first two months of the year only to fall back sharply in March when Italy was hit by the coronavirus epidemic.

A total of 17 127 people died from the virus in Italy, the highest number in the world, with 135 586 cases confirmed since the outbreak came to light on February 21.

Charity ships patrolling the Libyan coast to rescue migrants from flimsy boats initially withdrew from the Mediterranean at the onset on the health crisis, but the Sea-Eye ship Alan Kurdi returned last week.

“Even when life in Europe almost comes to a halt, human rights must be protected,” the group wrote in a Tweet, announcing it rescued 150 people. “Now our guests need a port of safety.”

In a separate statement, the charity called on Germany to take in the migrants. “After all, Germany is our flag state,” it said, adding Berlin managed to bring home 200 000 citizens stranded abroad because of the coronavirus.

“Surely it must be conceivable and humanly possible to send an aircraft for 150 people seeking protection to southern Europe to evacuate people,” it said.