As the summer vacation season draws to a close in Italy, a flare-up of Covid-19 cases is fueling a surge in anti-immigrant sentiment, even though the government says that migrants are just a small part of the problem.
Sicily’s president, Nello Musumeci, ordered the closure of all migrant centers on the island last weekend, saying it was impossible to prevent the spread of the illness at the facilities. And although a court blocked him, saying that he did not have the authority to close them, his order underlined the challenges Italy faces as right-wing politicians seek to rekindle a polarizing debate about immigration in a country hit hard by the pandemic.
In Pozzallo, a town in southern Sicily that has the highest rate of infection among newly arrived migrants, Roberto Ammatuna, the center-left mayor, has found himself trying to balance fears of a coronavirus influx with an obligation to rescue migrants in distress at sea.
“Our citizens need to feel safe and protected, because we are here in the front lines of Europe,” he said in an interview in his office overlooking the turquoise waters of the Mediterranean. “No one wants migrants who are sick with Covid,” but, he said, “we can’t stop rescuing people at sea.”