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Countering Italian Government, Governor Shuts Migrant Centers

FILE - Migrants arrive in Porto Empedocle, Sicily, aboard two military ships after being transferred from the island of Lampedusa, where a number of small boat carrying migrants arrived in the last days, July 27, 2020.

Despite protests from Italy’s central government, the governor of Sicily has ordered all migrant centers on the island be shut down Monday and all migrants be transferred to shelters on the mainland, citing concerns about a new surge of COVID-19 cases. The governor is drawing fire from officials in Italy’s central government, who say he has no authority to do so.

The governor of Sicily, Nello Musumeci, issued an order for all migrants to be transferred out of reception centers on the island to others on the mainland, saying it is not possible to guarantee the health measures necessary to prevent COVID-19 infections.

Musumeci’s order effectively closed ports on the island to the arrival of migrants vessels of all kinds, including ones operated by charities.

Italy’s Interior Ministry reacted saying Musumeci’s order has no value because migration is an issue for the central government.

Musumeci justified his action alleging that neither the Italian government nor Europe has done anything about the increasing arrival of migrants. Sicily, he said, cannot allow what he described as “this invasion” to continue.

Musumeci said that every day Sicilians are called to make sacrifices to contain new infections and asked to wear masks, ensure social distancing and adopt all other measures of caution and prevention and then the state amasses migrants in halls (shelters) that become areas of outbreaks.

Musumeci said that for two months he has been calling on the government, responsible for migrant policies, to declare a state of emergency on the tiny island of Lampedusa, where for weeks a migrant center has been holding many more migrants than it should be.

Some have called the governor of the Sicily region to quit, saying he should resign if he is unable to manage his territory. Other politicians on the right say Musumeci is acting appropriately and blame the migrants’ presence for a rise in the number of infections.

Reports from health officials point to Italian vacationers returning home.

On Sunday for the second straight day, Italy registered more than 1,000 new coronavirus infections, the highest number since May 12. The numbers until recently had dropped to around 200 daily new cases.

With the approach of the start to the school year on September 14, authorities are concerned the infection rate will climb further.

Health minister Roberto Speranza has made clear the government is not planning new lockdowns.