Italy moves migrants from overcrowded Lampedusa

Italy completed the evacuation of more than 2,500 migrants from holding centres on Lampedusa on Tuesday, some infected with Covid-19, bringing much-needed relief to the overcrowded southern Mediterranean island, a news report said.

A final quarantine ship left Lampedusa earlier Tuesday and was steaming towards the Sicilian port city of Augusta, the AGI Italian news agency reported.

“The Snav Adriatico after loading a final 170 people this morning, now with a total of 330 people,has cast off and was heading towards Augusta,” it said.

Four other quarantine ships carrying a total of around 2,400 migrants between them were headed to Augusta and other Sicilian ports at Palermo and Trapani.

There were at least 220 cases of Covid-19 among the migrants on two of the ships, the Azzura and the Aurelia, AGI reported.

The ships were sent to Lampedusa after a meeting last week between Italian premier Giuseppe Conte, Sicily’s right-leaning leader Nello Musumeci and Lampedusa mayor Toto Martello.

Ahead of the meeting, Martello had slammed the Italian government’s “frightening silence” on the issue, threatening that “the whole island will go on strike” if the issue of overcrowding was not resolved.

Musumeci issued a decree last month ordering the closure of migrant centres on Sicily but the move was rejected by a regional court in Palermo.

“The arrival of the quarantine ships has lightened the load and at the same time — perhaps temporarily — put an end to the tug-of-war between the parties,” the AGI news agency said.

It said some 27 migrants were left after the operation, with another 56 migrants arriving Tuesday on three small boats. 

According to the UN refugee agency attempts by migrant boats to cross the Mediterranean have increased this year, up 91 percent from January to July over last year’s figures.

Italy has carried the brunt of the arrivals by sea, with almost 20,000, landing on its shores according to the latest UN figures.