Migrants and asylum seekers who test positive for COVID-19 are routinely being confined in “inadequate conditions” on quarantine ships stationed off the country’s coast. According to ARCI (Associazione Ricreativa Culturale Italiana), five quarantine ships are currently in operation; however, the total number of people quarantined on these vessels has not been released. Following a visit to one quarantine ship on 17 September–the “Rhapsody” ferry, then anchored off Palermo–the Italian national ombudsman reported that 868 persons were in quarantine on the ship that day, as well as an additional 814 who were undergoing compulsory isolation following their arrival in Italy.
Initially established in April by Decree n.1287/2020, the ships were intended to temporarily hold people rescued at sea who did not have a place of safety in the country. However, as well as placing newly arrived foreigners on the ships, others have been transferred from reception centres and other migrant structures–some of whom had been in the country for “several years.”
Concerns surrounding the country’s use of “quarantine ships” escalated earlier this month following the revelation that a “seriously ill” 15-year-old boy, who had been isolated on the Allegra quarantine ship following his rescue from the Mediterranean on 18 September, had died. The boy, who was reported to be dehydrated, malnourished, and had signs of torture on his body, remained on the ship until 30 September when he was ordered to be transferred to a hospital in Palermo following a medical examination. Two days later, he fell into a coma. He passed away on 5 October. According to Open Migration, the boy had received no medical treatment while on the ship. The boy’s death is now being investigated by Italian prosecutors.
More recently, an asylum seeker quarantined on board “Rhapsody” sent a video to ARCI to highlight the conditions in which he was being held. The video showed that windows on the ship were kept closed, and the individual reported that he had not been visited by a doctor or provided with medicine, bedding had not been changed, and he had only received one disposable paper face-mask since arriving nine days earlier. According to ARCI, migrants and asylum seekers on the boats were being kept in “inadequate” conditions and were essentially deprived of their liberty.
On 13 October, a member of the Italian parliament, Erasmo Palazzotto, submitted questions to parliament, asking for an immediate halt to transfers to quarantine ships. He described the use of the ships as a “discriminatory approach which is highly detrimental to the fundamental rights of migrants.”
- T. Fusco, “The Transfer of Men and Women Already Present on Italian Territory on “Quarantine Ships” is Illegal and Must be Stopped,” Open Migration, 13 October 2020, https://openmigration.org/en/analyses/the-transfer-of-men-and-women-already-present-on-italian-territory-on-quarantine-ships-is-illegal-and-must-be-stopped/
- ANSA, “Italian Detainee Rights Chief Visits Quarantine Ship,” 21 September 2020, InfoMigrants, https://www.infomigrants.net/en/post/27415/italian-detainee-rights-chief-visits-quarantine-ship
- L. Tondo, “Death of Teenage Boy on ‘Quarantine Ship’ Being Investigated,” The Guardian, 7 October 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/oct/07/death-of-teenage-boy-on-italian-quarantine-ship-being-investigated
- V. Ricciardi, “Migrants Brought by Force on Ships in Quarantine, Palazzotto (LeU) Presents Interrogation,” Domani, 14 October 2020, https://www.editorialedomani.it/fatti/migranti-portati-a-forza-sulle-navi-quarantena-palazzotto-leu-presenta-interrogazione-rmkn7i4k
- E. Wallis, “’Deprived Of Their Liberty’: Long-Term Asylum Seekers In Italy Who Test Positive For COVID-19 Sent To Quarantine Ships,” InfoMigrants, 14 October 2020, https://www.infomigrants.net/en/post/27902/deprived-of-their-liberty-long-term-asylum-seekers-in-italy-who-test-positive-for-covid-19-sent-to-quarantine-ships
- Members of the Italian Red Cross Gather on Quay as a Quarantine Ship Heads Towards Lampedusa Island, (Alessandro Di Meo, EPA, “Death of Teenage Boy on Italian ‘Quarantine Ship’ Being Investigated,” The Guardian, 7 October 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/oct/07/death-of-teenage-boy-on-italian-quarantine-ship-being-investigated)