Italy’s practice of confining Covid-19-positive migrant to “quarantine ships” is discriminatory, reckless and puts migrants lives in grave danger, the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor said in a statement today. This practice must immediately be ended and replaced with humane dignifying measures that ensure migrants’ full and equal access to health care and welfare during the pandemic.
In recent months, Italy has been intensifying the practice of transferring migrants on “quarantine ships”, including asylum seekers residing in Italy for months or years and holders of international protection who tested positive for Coronavirus. These boats are harmful to the physical and mental health of people rescued at sea, as shows the recent death of a young boy that was held on one of those boats. They also lack the proper medical equipment for people who test positive for Covid-19.
One asylum seeker, resident in a reception center in Rome, was told by the authorities to be positive for Covid-19 without having the possibility to access his test. He was transferred to a “quarantine ship” in Palermo, hundreds of kilometres away, without any communication nor assessment of his possible pre-existing health conditions, possible vulnerability to the disease, integration in the territory or presence of family ties. He sent a video to ARCI, a well-known organization for social promotion in Italy, reporting that in the ship where he’s being confined, the windows can’t be opened, both his bedding and his paper mask have not been changed in nine days, and that he has not seen a doctor nor received any medicine so far.
The state of emergency for the pandemic allows the authorities to impose a ban on mobility on any person that tests positive for Covid-19, but this form of forced transfer is illegal and discriminatory. It violates the personal liberty, guaranteed to all by Art. 13 of the Italian Constitution, as the deprivation of personal freedom is implemented outside the cases provided for by law and in the absence of an individual assessment. This practice also involves a violation of the prohibition of discrimination, enshrined in both national and European law, particularly Art. 3 of the Italian Constitution and Art. 21 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, because it implements health measures different from those envisaged for Italian citizens.
“It is inhumane to put people who have experienced trauma at sea on boats without proper medical assistance and then claim that it’s done to protect their own and the public’s health,” said Michela Pugliese, researcher at Euro-Med Monitor, “With these choices, Italy nourishes the idea that a migrant is more dangerous to public security than any Italian who tests positive for the virus.”
Each “quarantine ship” keeps hundreds of people in overcrowded and inadequate conditions. A 15-years-old boy was recently rescued at sea and transferred with 200 other migrants to a “quarantine ship” in Sicily. Even though he was very ill, dehydrated, malnourished and carrying evident signs of torture on his body, he remained aboard for twelve days before being transferred to a hospital in Palermo. Two days later, after testing negative for Covid-19, he died. According to Michele Calantropo, a lawyer in charge of the case, his ferry was carrying over 600 migrants and had only one physician aboard.
Euro-Med Monitor calls on Italy to immediately stop this illegal practice which is harming the fundamental rights of people rescued at sea, and to normally distribute migrants who test positive for Coronavirus in adequate facilities for quarantine and isolation.