The Italian government will send soldiers to Sicily to stop recently arrived migrants leaving holding centers after a raft of breakouts in recent days, including some by people who had been quarantined to contain the spread of the coronavirus.
The government ensured citizens and toursists none of the escapees had tested positive for the virus and that most had been caught soon after breaking out of the facilities.
But the breakouts are adding to unease over rising numbers of migrants who have made their way across the Mediterranean in recent weeks. Italy largely tamed the virus after one of the longest and strictest lockdowns among Western countries. Everyday life is returning to something approaching normalcy. A requirement to wear masks in enclosed places is one of the few hints the virus is still circulating.
So far in July, 5,583 migrants have arrived in Italy, almost five times as in the same month last year, though fewer than in the crush who came during the height of the European migrant crisis. So far this year, around 12,500 have arrived, compared with about 180,000 who came in 2016 alone.
The government now plans to make it all but impossible for new migrants to break free from their initial quarantine by confining them for two weeks on a large ship that will lie off the southern coast of Sicily before transferring them to migrant centers on land. It isn’t yet clear when the ship will be in place and, meanwhile, migrants centers have filled beyond their capacity in recent days. Italian Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese has promised to transfer 500 migrants from Sicily to other parts of Italy by July 28.
The government has assigned soldiers to prevent migrants leaving the holding centers. The first soldiers were due to arrive in the area on Tuesday and their numbers will eventually reach about 400, according to an Interior Ministry official.
Italy eventually slowed the initial flow of migrants by striking an agreement with authorities in Libya, the main point of departure, to fund and train the Libyan coast guard along with the European Union.
From January to July this year, 4,537 Tunisians reached Italy, more than five times the number by the same timline last year.