Italy Starts Using Ships to Quarantine Resident Migrants who Test Positive for Covid-19

CILD learned that a Covid-positive Gambian man with an Italian residence permit had been transferred to a quarantine ship, with no prior notice. Dozens of similar cases of migrants being quarantined in this way soon emerged.

Ship starts to be used to hold non-Italian residents in quarantine

On 9 October, the Italian Coalition for Civil Liberties and Rights (Coalizione Italiana per le Libertà e i Diritti Civili, CILD) was informed that a Covid-positive Gambian man with a regular Italian residence permit had been transferred, from a reception centre in Rome to the “Gnv Allegra quarantine ship” in Palermo. The man was given no notice of this transfer. Soon after, a number of similar cases emerged. Lawyers from Asgi reported about a dozen people in various Italian cities who had been treated in the same way. CILD immediately mobilised, releasing an article on the Open Migration platform that same day.

The “Allegra ship” is one of five ships that had been operating under the Civil Protection Department measure of 12 April 2020, and was being used to hold migrants who had been rescued or who had arrived on foreign-flagged vessels and tested positive for coronavirus.

Quarantine ships: Can this be acceptable?

As of October, the situation is quite different. These ships currently “host” Covid-positive migrants that hold a regular Italian residence permits, as well as those who arrived by sea on both Italian and non-Italian vessels, regardless of whether they tested positive for Covid-19. What was feared from the start turned into a reality: quarantine ships have gone from being an exceptional reception measure to floating immigration detention facilities.

In its report Immigration detention in Covid-19 times, CILD stressed that quarantine ships can only be acceptable as long as they guarantee that on-ship medical isolation is proportionate, non-discriminatory and non-arbitrary. This is no longer the case. The practice of holding third-country nationals at sea during their quarantine period is illegitimate and lacks any legal basis.

Interior Minister gives flimsy response

In response to the reports and complaints from civil society, Interior Minister Lucia Lamorgese confirmed that, due a lack of on-land facilities, the measure was deemed necessary to ensure the isolation of virus-affected migrants and to protect staff and detainees at other centres. “Once Covid-free”, she stated “migrants will be transferred to their provinces once again”. This response is unsatisfactory. CILD believes that this practice is discriminatory, arbitrary and disproportionate. It will thus continue monitoring the situation until a solution is found.

During the height of the epidemic, in Trieste, in the Friuli Venezia Giulia region, regional authorities proposed docking a ship in the city's port to host old people affected by Covid-19. Although protests and opposition swiftly followed, the plan of a “lazareth-ship” continued to be floated for more than a month. The same “Gnv Allegra ship” was identified and commissioned for the job. Finally, however, regional authorities decided not to proceed and the agreement fell through. How and why is the situation of migrants different? The health emergency should not be used as an excuse to discriminate against them.