The first reports arrived at dawn on October 8: migrants with regular residence permits -including both male and female “guests” of the Cas of Rome and other cities of Italy – who had tested positive for the COVID-19 were about to be transferred to the so-called “quarantine ships”.
Initially the topic of quarantine being carried aboard ships was broached on April 12, when with the introduction of Decree n.1287/2020, the Head of the Department of Civil Protection was entrusted by the Department for Civil Liberties and Immigration and the Ministry of the Interior with the management of procedures related to the fiduciary isolation and quarantine of foreign citizens who had been rescued or had arrived independantly by sea “with reference to people rescued at sea and for whom it is not possible to indicate a “Place of Safety”.
Previously, with the “Cura Italia” decree, authorities had been already entrusted with the power to requisition hotels and other similar facilities for the purpose of carrying out quarantine or accommodating people potentially in contact with the virus who did not have a home to carry out isolation; for example those at risk who were homeless.
A new problem now arises as now these same measures are being taken with regards to new groups already legitimately present on Italian territory (not merely those undocumented persons who arrive by sea) and the use of these measures is both unjustified and without adequate legal basis.
The measures were also designed for the quarantine of people rescued at sea from ships not flying the Italian flag, which was later extended to those who flew it. At this stage even these prerequisites have lost their specificity.
How would we react if, instead, a patient admitted to the RSA (health residences for elderly) was transferred to the quarantine ships, far from their place of residence?
It should also be remembered that since the establishment of the “quarantine ship” practice, these ships have ended up under scrutiny by rights organisations and the Guarantor for inmates for their consistent failures to respect essential rights. For example, last week news sources reported the death of Abou – a 15-year-old boy forced to spend the necessary 15 days of isolation aboard a quarantine ship, despite being “in a very serious state of health” at the time of landing and his body showing signs of torture.
The case of Farouk
Among the first to report migrant transfers to quarantine ships was Valentina Tortorella, a member of Asgi and legal counsel for Farouk*.
Farouk’s story is a typical one for many in situations like his: he left Gambia in 2015 and after a 5-month stay in Libya he entered Italy in February 2017, at the age of 17, via the Sicilian coast. From there he was sent to a centre for minors in Bari and some time before applying for protection, he went to Germany. After a long “Dublin” procedure in Germany, he was sent back to Italy and was received in Rome. He formalised his application for protection in July 2019. In October of the same year he met the Territorial Commission which rejected his application and lodged an appeal with the Court of Rome. While waiting for his hearing before a Judge, scheduled for December, the boy was received at a centre located in Porrino (a few kilometres from Rome) and in September he collected his 6-month residence permit obtained from the Police Headquarters, which he currently holds.
While at this facility he was notified of the news that he had tested positive to the virus and was later transferred to a quarantine ship in Palermo.
“I was aware” – says Tortorella to Open Migration – “that the boy on 4 October 2020 had undergone a rapid antigenic swab, on the request of the ASL following the report of a positive case in the reception centre. He, along with about 15 other people, had tested positive and, being asymptomatic, underwent isolation within the centre”.
“Later,” continues the lawyer, “I was contacted again by Farouk on the morning of 8 October, and he told me that during the night, at around one o’clock, he had been picked up by a Red Cross bus together with the other persons who had tested positive in the centre, to be taken aboard a ‘quarantine ship’, but without really knowing its location, nor having any idea about the modalities and timing of the transfer. Only at 5pm that same day was he able to let me know that he was at the port of Palermo. He expressed great concern both for the total absence of information received and for the uncertainty regarding his return to Rome. The same, in fact, has been the case regarding his legal path for the recognition of international protection, which started a long time ago in Rome and is still pending in the judicial phase, even while he is well integrated socially. In fact, he has been in Italy since February 2017, when he was still a minor, and has been in Rome, in the Porrino centre, for more than a year. The procedure implemented against him, as well as lacking any legal basis, is seriously discriminatory and detrimental to his rights as a person”.
Not an isolated case
Unfortunately, Farouk’s story is not an isolated case and at this moment, according to reports received by Asgi, dozens of other people are in the same situation: they are holders of regular residence permits, are well and truly domiciled in Italy, and have been transferred without notice and without information about their rights aboard quarantine ships, dozens if not hundreds of kilometers away from their daily lives.
The fear that an exceptional measure intended only for people rescued at sea could transform into the establishment of a new place of detention even for regular foreigners has now been realised.
Lawyer Gennaro Santoro, an expert in migration law for the Italian Coalition for Liberties and Civil Rights, spoke to Open Migration and warned against such practices:
“Already with hotspots we have seen a similar phenomenon. Opened in 2015 as an exceptional measure for massive arrivals by sea in Italy and Greece, they then became the norm. Now the quarantine ships, introduced in April of this year in an emergency phase and only for arrivals by sea, become ‘Lazzaretti’ also for migrants with regular residence permits who should instead be spending quarantine periods on land, like Italian citizens”.
“Who decided these forced transfers?” asks Santoro, “Is there an instruction issued and, if so, issued by whom? Is it imaginable under the rule of law to transfer and detain a person on a ship without even providing them with a written order, or information? Is it possible to limit personal freedom without the validation of a judge, as required by Article 13 of the italian Constitution? After the migrants arriving by sea and the migrants hosted in reception centres, who will be the next deportees?
*Name has been changed to protect his privacy