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30 August 2021 – Italy

A Group of Migrants on a Boat Being Assisted with Anti-Covid Procedures During a Landing in Roccella Jonica in Calabria on 6 July 2021 (ANSA,
A Group of Migrants on a Boat Being Assisted with Anti-Covid Procedures During a Landing in Roccella Jonica in Calabria on 6 July 2021 (ANSA, "Migration to Italy Fell in 2020 Pandemic Year, Federal Statistics Bureau Reports," Infomigrants, 14 July 2021,

The Italian statistics bureau (Instituto Nazionale di Statistica) reported in July that the COVID-19 pandemic had led to a more than 30 percent decrease of migration entries in 2020 in comparison to the annual averages from the previous five years. On the other hand, by April 2021, Italy experienced more than 5,300 migrant and refugee maritime arrivals, more than twice the number of arrivals during the same period in 2020. According to Mediterranea Saving Humans, more than 4,000 people were intercepted at sea and arbitrarily detained between 1 January and 1 March 2021, including 222 minors. 142 people were reported missing and 28 were found dead at sea during the same period. Three shipwrecks also were reported between Libya and Italy in February (February 19; 20; and 28).

Italy’s treatment of arriving migrants and asylum seekers since the onset of the pandemic has been harshly criticized by civil society groups. In late 2020, the Associazione Ricreativa Culturale Italiana (ARCI) expressed its “profound worries” and “condemnation of” Italy’s policy towards COVID-19 positive migrants and asylum seekers. Italy has been routinely quarantining newly arrived migrants on board ferries moored offshore in several ports in the south of the country. ACRI reported five such ferries in operation, yet the numbers of those on board have not been released. It appears that some of the migrants and asylum seekers on board are not in fact newly arrived but had been in various reception centres for several months or even years. ACRI was sent a video by an asylum seeker who said he was a resident in an emergency reception centre in Rome and had been in Italy for years, when he tested positive for COVID-19. The asylum seeker was taken from Rome to Palermo and placed on the HMV Rhapsody ferry, which subsequently sailed to the port of Bari in Puglia. ACRI said that this case was not unique and that it had “been following several other cases.” ACRI says that these asylum seekers are being kept in inadequate conditions and are being deprived of their liberty as they may not leave the ferry.

In mid-2020, ECRE reported that despite the impossibility of carrying out returns due to the suspension of flight connections at that time, Italy had not suspended forced repatriation measures nor adopted any policy concerning the release of immigration detainees, even from centres, like the Gradisca Detention Centre, where there COVID cases were being reported. Nevertheless, courts ordered the release of some detainees due to the suspension of asylum procedures or a lack of prospect of return. While the number of detainees in all centres was reportedly reduced by late April 2020, there were still 229 detained in the country at that time. Italy did adopt some pandemic-related measures for people in immigration detention. For instance, in two circulars from March 2020 (no. 5987 and 3567) the government recommended that detainees’ body temperature be checked before entering the centres; that masks be provided to detainees; and that hygiene supplies be given out.

The country began a national vaccination campaign under which “beneficiaries of international protection and asylum seekers are placed on equal footing as Italians,” according to the Association for Legal Studies on Immigration (ASGI). In addition, NGOs in southern Italy have organised a COVID-19 vaccination campaign that is open to all, including undocumented migrants, and have set up centres in the towns of Ragusa and Vittoria.