ROME (Sputnik) - The president of Italy’s Sicily, Nello Musumeci, on Monday set himself on a collision course with the central government over orders to disband migrant camps on the island over coronavirus fears.
In an order issued by Musumeci last week, all asylum-seekers on the island must be transferred to other areas and migrant centres must be closed down. The order also issues a blanket ban on all maritime vessels carrying asylum-seekers from docking in the island’s ports.
"Rather than responding to the migration emergency with concrete action, the central government is setting up concentration camps - abandoned tent cities in a military depot for years," Musumeci told a news conference on Monday.
The polemic politician argued that with 58 new cases of COVID-19 registered among the tightly-packed migrant population in Sicily poses a risk for a resurgence of the disease. He stressed that the order was issued on health grounds, rather than anti-immigrant sentiments.
The Italian Interior Ministry, for its part, has said that the order is inconsistent with the competences of the local authorities and that the demands are unfeasible.
In a statement issued on the matter, the ministry said that it was doing its utmost to ease the migration pressure on Sicily, noting that over 3,500 asylum-seekers have been transferred off the island over the past month. Rome also said that all migrants are subjected to COVID-19 tests on a regular basis.
According to the Interior Ministry’s data, some 17,000 asylum-seekers have made landfall of Italian shores since the beginning of the year. This is sharply higher than the 4,600 that arrived in 2019 and looks to eclipse 2018’s year-long tally of 19,500 arriving migrants.