Covid threat for migrants in crowded quarantine centres

Italian shelters exceed capacity while Belarus offers little protection

Italian military personnel hand out Covid-19 vaccines to migrants on the Mediterranean island of Lampedusa. EPA
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Migrants and refugees are quarantining in overcrowded centres on the Italian coast as Covid-19 measures add to their difficulties.

A 450-person shelter on the Italian island of Lampedusa, a common arrival point for people crossing the Mediterranean, was overcapacity in November as 9,500 people arrived in Italy by sea.

Many of the migrants were quarantined in offshore ferries as the route to Italy regains traffic after a pandemic-related slump.

On the Italian mainland, quarantine centres in Calabria and Puglia were overcrowded despite new space being created for 120 people, according to documents from the UNHCR.

Elsewhere, 12 people tested positive for Covid-19 after arriving in Spain’s Canary Islands, another favourite destination on migration routes.

In Belarus, the warehouse housing some of the migrants at the centre of an international crisis was described by UN monitors as completely lacking in health protections.

Up to 2,000 people were put up in “substandard living conditions” and there was “no indication that Covid-19 preventive measures were in place,” they said. Two people were reported to have tested positive.

“Lack of sufficient reception spaces, overcrowding and inadequate facilities in a number of locations in Europe continue to pose challenges,” observers said.

“Outbreaks in reception centres remain a concern, and typically result in restrictions of movement for some centre residents.”

The route to Italy typically begins in North Africa, but increasing numbers of people have made the longer journey from Turkey. Smugglers operating luxury vessels to avoid attracting suspicion are feared to be behind this.

In Greece, the UN refugee agency said in its monthly overview that Covid-related movement restrictions on migrants were more stringent than those applied to the general population.

But there was more positive news from vaccination campaigns, which were widely said to have included migrants and people in reception centres.

Refugees were reported to have become more interested in getting vaccinated as more of the drugs became available.

The UN agency said its monitoring was limited by the pandemic, with visits to reception centres strictly controlled and many UNHCR staff partially working from home.

It said it faced a funding gap of hundreds of millions of dollars as it works to distribute protective gear and other equipment to help combat Covid-19.

Updated: December 20, 2021, 1:10 PM