Published on August 8, 2020 in News + Media

Starting from August 10, repatriation flights for Tunisian migrants will resume regularly, on the basis of an agreement in force with the government of their country of origin. In the meanwhile, on August 6, 58 asylum seekers have been transferred to Germany.

As declared by the Italian Interior Ministry on August 4, after the stop to repatriation due to coronavirus lockdown, two charter flights, carrying a maximum of 40 people each, will be organized every week. Particularly, these will be bi-weekly flights with departures on Mondays and Thursdays, which will allow the repatriation of 80 illegal immigrants per week. This decision came after the unprecedented peak of migrants approaching the Italian coasts, mainly the Sicilian ones, during the last weeks, causing troubles for the local facilities. Many of the arrivals have come from Tunisia.

The first charter flights resumed on July 16 with a maximum of 20 Tunisian citizens per plane, as requested by the Tunisian authorities. Specifically, five charter flights allowed the repatriation of 95 Tunisian citizens. This way, in the period from June 1 to August 6, 266 people were repatriated. Tunisians, amounting to 166, and Albanians, equal to 103, represent the largest groups. Starting on August 10, instead, the original terms of the agreement will once again be respected.

In this regard, on August 6, the Interior Ministry also referred that 58 asylum seekers left Rome, headed to Germany. They had landed in Italy on October 16 and 30, 2019 from the Ocean Viking ship. None of them tested positive for Covid-19. Therefore, the number of asylum seekers who have left Italy after the suspension of flights for the lockdown rises to 141.

The operating procedures, approved by the European Commission and the involved States after the Malta Declaration of September 23, 2019, made it possible to carry out the relocation safely. The procedure is divided into four fundamental phases. The first concerns the activities to be carried out during the landing operations, such as pre-identification, photo-signaling, and first health check. The second one is related to the interviews from the European asylum support office (EASO), aiming at finalizing the proposal for the reallocation of applicants for international protection to individual states. Then, during the third phase, the individual files are analyzed by each State, which can also ask for further interviews by foreign delegations. Finally, the fourth phase concerns the preparation and organization of transfers to the Member States of destination.

Within this framework, Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese also declared that the reinforcement of the military contingent on the border with Slovenia was “imminent” and that the government was devoting “maximum attention to the migratory phenomenon in the north east” of Italy. On her turn, EU Commissioner Ylva Johansson affirmed that one of her goal is strengthening efforts with all the partners that took part in a conference against migrant trafficking on July 13, namely Tunisia, Algeria, Libya, Mauritania and Morocco, as one of the key priorities in the new Pact on Migration and Asylum.

The political instability of Tunisia and the growing economic crisis has led hundreds of citizens to leave the country, looking for better living and working conditions in Europe. This caused an increase in the phenomenon of irregular immigration, which also affected the Italian coast, prompting the Interior Minister, Luciana Lamorgese, to head to Tunisia on July 27, to urge the country to find a solution.

On that occasion, President Saied declared that his country is ready to intensify controls at maritime borders to tackle the migrants smuggling issue, and to join efforts aiming at coping with the illegal migration. However, the Tunisian President stated that security solutions alone are not enough, since the phenomenon of illegal immigration is, first of all, a humanitarian issue. Therefore, it is necessary to understand the root causes in advance. “Allowing the survival of migrants in their countries is everyone’s responsibility and the solution to the phenomenon consists in cooperation among several countries”, Saied said.

The overall picture of the migration phenomenon is worrying, not only for the living conditions of migrants hosted in the Italian facilities, but also because people positive to Covid-19 often escape from the places where they are supposed to be quarantined, representing a danger for the entire country, which is still trying to defeat the pandemic.

Following the outbreak of COVID-19, Italy took measures related to the asylum procedures and reception provisions. On April 7, Rome issued a ministerial decree in which it declared its ports unsafe. Then, on April 9, the Ministers of Transports, Foreign Affairs, Interior, and Health, decided to close the Italian ports to migrants due to the coronavirus emergency. In the new document, the four ministers declared that the Italian ports did not guarantee the Place of Safety requirements, as defined in the Hamburg International Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue. Therefore, Italian ports had to remain closed for the entire duration of the emergency in the country, until July 31. 


This article was first published on August 8, 2020

Piera Laurenza