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Coronavirus: Italy sends military to Sicily as hundreds of migrants flee quarantine

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Migrants wait to be transferred to Porto Empedocle from Lampedusa, in Sicily, Monday, Aug. 19, 2019
Migrants wait to be transferred to Porto Empedocle from Lampedusa, in Sicily, Monday, Aug. 19, 2019   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Salvatore Cavalli
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Italy's Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese has announced plans to send the military to Sicily after around 100 migrants violated quarantine and fled a detention centre there on Monday.

Lamorgese said later in a statement that most of them had been "tracked down" and all had tested negative for coronavirus.

But Sicily's governor, Nello Musumeci, said in a Facebook post that the migration issue was being treated with "improvisation" and "superficiality", adding that Sicily is not "a colony".

The migrants reportedly left a tent guarded by a Civil Protection unit in the town of Porto Empedocle, western Sicily, where they were supposed to undergo a 14-day quarantine.

The facility was hosting 500 migrants despite having the capacity for just 100, AFP cited Italian media as saying.

The incident comes after 184 migrants — all of whom tested negative for COVID-19 as well — fled another detention centre in Caltanissetta, Sicily on Sunday.

Foreign minister Luigi Di Maio said 125 of them have been found but expressed concerns that such incidents may hamper Italy's efforts to control the coronavirus crisis.

"The virus has not gone. Italian citizens, just like me, need to keep abiding by the rules that we set ourselves, and the same stands for tourists and those entitled to international protection," he said.

Fabio Peonia/LaPresse via AP
Migrants arriving in Porto Empedocle, Sicily, Italy, on July 27 2020Fabio Peonia/LaPresse via AP

Italy is currently dealing with a growing influx of migrants from Tunisia, which is putting a strain on migration centres.

The foreign ministry said on its website, as of July 27, over 12,000 migrants had their arrival recorded in Italy this year and more than a third came from Tunisia.

The situation prompted Lamorgese to fly to Tunisia on Monday for a meeting with President Kais Saied.

According to the Italian authorities, Saied pledged to "intensify checks at the sea frontiers to battle migrant trafficking activities".

Giorgia Meloni, leader of Brothers of Italy, the country's second opposition party, called on the government to "immediately" stop any migrants disembarking in Italian ports.

Watch the report by Euronews' Italy correspondent Giorgia Orlandi in the player above.