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Residents of COVID-free island lash out over influx of 2,000 migrants
Carlos Gil / GettyROME – Last week, Salvatore Martello, the mayor of the Sicilian island of Lampedusa, which is only 8 square miles in size, boasted that his island was almost COVID-free after all of its residents would soon be completely vaccinated. Islanders are panicking after more than 2,000 unvaccinated migrants and refugees from across Africa began arriving on smugglers’ boats on Saturday. As of Sunday, a total of 20 boats had arrived, carrying some 2,000 desperate souls who had somehow bypassed the Libyan coast guard and crossed the calm sea. migrants en masse have already scared many people planning their vacations. The owner of Hotel Baja Turchese said he received several cancellations from people who came because they believed the island would be COVID-free. “Migrants are changing dynamics, because even if they have to quarantine and get tested, they have already done so. potentially brought the virus back to the island, ”he told the Daily Beast. But many asylum seekers who fled to the island had no choice but to flee the poverty, violence and persecution they faced in their home countries. most of the migrants had been treated and, based on their interviews, were mainly from sub-Saharan Africa, including countries like Eritrea and Somalia that have yet to receive a single dose of COVID vaccines. Others were migrant workers who worked in the oil fields of conflict-ravaged Libya, where they suffered constant wage theft, discrimination and waves of violent civil strife. were forced to sleep on the hot pavement under the scorching sun in the wharf area to avoid potentially infecting the islanders. Until Sunday, the migrant center had been empty for almost two years. “The situation in Lampedusa is literally explosive,” Domenico Pianese, a police official, said in a statement to local media. “If we have another day like yesterday, with an incessant succession of landings, it will not be possible to manage public safety and health.” The island, closer to North Africa than to Europe, has long been a magnet for migrants who crashed their rickety blue fishing boats onto its rocky shores. The island reached a near breaking point in 2011, when thousands of people fleeing the violence of the Arab Spring in North Africa arrived. Migrant “ detention areas ” in Libya became death camps , but in 2014, when NGO rescue boats began patrolling the seas after Mare, the Italian government-sponsored Nostrum rescue mission came to an end, boats carrying migrants were often intercepted and pulled over. rarely visited Lampedusa, which has enabled the island to strengthen its tourism industry. This summer they were hoping for a godsend with crazed Europeans in search of secluded beaches and guaranteed sunshine. It is not known if Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s recent trip to Libya has changed in any way or another. other the response of the Libyan coast guard to the last exodus. Italy trained and funded the Libyan Coast Guard and provided them with boats, even as they were accused – and filmed committing – of horrific human rights violations, including shooting at gunshots. migrants and let them drown. migrants are usually taken to squalid detention centers until smugglers, working with complicit guards, attempt to get them across the sea again. On Monday, the Libyan coast guard prevented the departure of some 600 migrants on several smuggler ships, according to UNHCR. The migrants and refugees who have arrived will all need to be quarantined and tested, Martello says, and many will isolate themselves on ferries moored off the island or be transported to Sicily’s considerably larger land mass. A huge ship is on its way to the island to provide additional accommodation. Most of the testing should be done by the end of the week. No COVID test results have yet been released. So far this year, some 12,000 migrants have crossed the sea to Italy, four times more than last year during the same period. They came alone in fishing boats or were rescued by one of the few NGO boats authorized to deliver them ashore. On Monday evening, the NGO group Alarm Phone, which tries to alert authorities to boats in difficulty, reported that around 400 people were languishing on boats between Malta and Lampedusa. By nightfall, no one had rescued them, and in April Italy came under fire from aid groups after ignoring distress calls from a boat off Libya, which eventually capsized. At least 130 people are said to have drowned in the accident. So far this year, around 500 migrants have reportedly died at sea trying to reach safety. And they won’t be the last, especially if the group on Lampedusa is only seen as COVID threats. Send it to The Daily Beast here Get our best stories delivered to your inbox every day. Register now! Daily Beast Membership: Beast Inside delves deeper into the stories that matter to you. Learn more.