Italian authorities detained another NGO-operated search-and-rescue vessel on July 22—the fourth to have fallen foul of "technical irregularities" since the beginning of the pandemic. The move fits a pattern of authorities using administrative procedures to block the work of search-and-rescue NGOs in the central Mediterranean, according to human rights groups. At the end of June, the Ocean Viking, operated by NGO Onboard SOS Mediterranee, rescued 180 asylum-seekers and migrants who had departed from Libya. Authorities in Italy and Malta refused to assign the ship a safe harbor for eight days, leading to a severe deterioration in the mental health conditions of those on board, manifesting in suicide attempts and fights. After the rescued people finally disembarked in Sicily, the Ocean Viking observed a 14-day quarantine before it was inspected and impounded.
The Italian government passed a law May 13 paving the way for some 200,000 undocumented workers to apply for six-month legal residency permits. But just a few weeks later, the initial atmosphere of hope has quickly faded. The amnesty was one measure in a €55 billion ($59.6 billion) stimulus package meant to support Italy's economy as the country struggles with impacts of the coronavirus. Italy has had one of the most severe outbreaks in the world, with nearly 230,000 confirmed cases and more than 32,500 deaths as of May 25.
In Episode 50 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg notes frightening advances toward a fascist world order amid the COVID-19 crisis. With police-state measures being imposed worldwide, Donald Trump is claiming "total" executive power and threatening to "adjourn" Congress. That he is doing so in the name of lifting rather than enforcing the lockdown is certainly an irony, but either way it represents exploitation of the crisis for a power-grab. Even under a best-case scenario of a post-pandemic return to "normality," it will be in the context of an unprecedented totalizing surveillance state.
Migrants trying to reach Europe from North Africa have been left stranded on the Mediterranean Sea after Italy and Malta closed their ports due to public health reasons amid the COVID-19 outbreak. Alarm Phone, which acts as a hotline for refugees and migrants in distress on the Mediterranean, said April 13 that it hadn't heard from one of three boats that requested assistance in Malta's search-and-rescue zone. When Alarm Phone reached out to the Maltese authorities, they were frequently placed on hold or the line disconnected, according to the hotline's Maurice Stierl.
The European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled April 2 that Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic failed to uphold their obligations regarding refugee quotas as required by law. The countries could face financial penalties for their actions. In 2015 EU leaders established a refugee relocation program in response to the large numbers of asylum-seekers from war-torn Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East. EU countries were supposed to apportion a share of asylum-seekers among those that arrived in Greece and Italy. Poland and the Czech Republic, according to the ECJ, "failed to fulfill their obligations under European Union law" by not accepting the number of refugees they had promised.
With whole nations under lockdown, sweeping powers are being assumed by governments across the world in the name of containing the COVID-19 pandemic. Hungary's parliament on March 30 voted to allow Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to rule by decree, without a set time limit. While the emergency legislation remains in place, all elections are suspended, as are several government regulations including (ironically) some concerned with protecting public health. Individuals who spread what is deemed false or distorted information may face up to five years in prison. Other measures include up to three years in prison for anyone who disregards quarantine orders. (Jurist, Politico)
A total of 12 inmates have been killed in prison riots across Italy, triggered by emergency restrictions imposed in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. The riots began March 8 in response to regulation changes that include the suspension of family visits. Uprisings have been reported from the facilities at Modena, near Bologna; Rieti, outside Rome; Poggioreale in Naples; Foggia in Apulia; and Palermo, Sicily. In Modena's Santa Ana prison, fires were started and guards taken hostage. Soldiers and Carabinieri surrounded the facility to prevent inmates from escaping. Relatives of the inmates have also staged demonstrations outside the prisons. Protests and riots have been reported at a total of 27 prisons across Italy.
Refugees have become political pawns in a power play between the EU, Greece and Turkey. Turkey abrogated its deal with the European Union to contain refugees within its borders, as a means of pressuring the EU to support its military campaign in Syria. Dramatic scenes ensued at the land and sea borders between Greece and Turkey: Greek police tear-gassing and pushing back crowds of asylum-seekers at a northern border crossing; the Hellenic Coast Guard firing warning shots at a dinghy full of asylum-seekers in the Aegean Sea; angry protesters preventing another group in a dinghy from disembarking in the port on the island of Lesvos. Amid all this came a timely reminder of what can happen when people feel compelled to attempt ever more dangerous journeys. The UN migration agency, IOM, announced that the drowning of 91 people off the coast of Libya last month and other recent fatalities had taken the toll in the Mediterranean Sea since 2014 above 20,000.