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Car kills migrant fleeing quarantined Sicily residence

ROME (AP) — A member of a group of migrants escaping a quarantined residence for asylum-seekers in Sicily was struck and killed by a car when he and other fugitives ran onto a highway in the dark early Friday, pursued on foot by police officers, Italian media reported. Three police officers were also injured.

The Eritrean man was among about 20 migrants who were trying to flee the residence a day after many of them climbed to the roof and staged a protest against crowded living conditions during the coronavirus pandemic, Italian news agency ANSA said.

The driver was arrested for investigation of vehicular homicide, Rai state radio reported. There was no indication that the driver had intended to hit anyone. One of the injured officers had surgery for a fractured leg.

The police gave chase after several migrants fled the residence in Siculiana, near the Sicilian tourist town of Agrigento, the reports said. The others were believed to have been brought back to the center.

During the pandemic, protests have erupted at some residences housing migrants, many of which in Sicily and in southern Italian mainland towns are seriously overcrowded. At the Siculiana residence, 16 of the 237 residents tested positive earlier in the week for COVID-19, the interior ministry said in a statement. Testing of 19 others was inconclusive, and while awaiting updated results all the migrants in the center are required to stay in quarantine, the ministry said.

Once all the tests results arrive, the infected migrants will likely be transferred to one of several ferries Italy has chartered to help ease overcrowding at its living facilities for asylum-seekers.

Last week, the island of Lampedusa, south of Sicily, appealed to the Italian government to remove hundreds of migrants. The island receives Europe-bound asylum-seekers who set out from the Tunisian coast or were rescued from flimsy dinghies and decrepit fishing boats launched from Libya by human traffickers.

The migrant processing center on Lampedusa is meant to hold fewer than 200, while recently there were some 2,000 migrants there, the mayor has said. As a precaution against the spread of the coronavirus, the Italian government has been sending chartered ferries to quarantine migrants before they are relocated to residences in Sicily or on the mainland.

Two more ferries were dispatched to take on hundreds more of the migrants by the end of the week, including from Lampedusa, the interior ministry has said. Most the recent migrants are fleeing poverty, not persecution or armed conflicts, so they risk being denied asylum.

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