WHO PHAME supports Italy in 1st contingency health response plan to massive migration

WHO/Sara Barragán

In less than one week, over 6000 migrants have reached the Italian region of Sicily. According to the Italian authorities, around 25 000 undocumented migrants have been rescued at sea from January 2014. This number represents a dramatic increase compared to the start of the previous year. The Italian military rescues all undocumented migrants approaching the Italian coast in the frame of the military and humanitarian operation "Mare Nostrum". Active from October 2013, when up to 350 undocumented migrants died when a ship sank off the coast of Lampedusa, Mare Nostrum aims at avoiding this type of disaster.

Most undocumented migrants arriving in Italy come from countries such as Eritrea, Gambia, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal and Syria. After their arrival, they stay 1 day in temporary camps at the dock where a medical triage is conducted, before being transferred to other migration facilities. According to the Italian Ministry of Interior, currently there is a total of 28 migration centres in the Italian territory, including:

  • Reception Centres (CDAs);
  • First Aid and Reception Centres (CPSAs);
  • Asylum Seekers Reception Centres (CARAs); and
  • Centres for Identification and Expulsion (CIEs).

Due to the large number of undocumented migrants arriving this year, the local authorities in Sicily have been obliged to open other temporary facilities. Despite the Italian efforts to manage mass migration, the numbers are overwhelming for the current capacity. This situation evidences the need to scale-up and coordinate efforts at the European level in order to improve not only the Italian response, but also the continent’s response and preparedness.

WHO response

The Public Health Aspects of Migration in Europe (PHAME) team, from the WHO Regional Office for Europe, has visited the region to help the regional authorities to better manage this large influx of migrants. In April, Lucia Borsellino, the Councillor of Health of the Sicily Region, announced the creation of a contingency plan to improve the health response to this massive migration. WHO/Europe has been collaborating with the Italian authorities since 2011, conducting several assessments in Sicily, and will provide technical support for the development of this contingency plan.