France and Italy argue over who should take migrants

Africans sleeping near border ‘must be handled by Italy’, says French interior minister

Footage of the Lé Eithne as it located and rescued 367 migrants from a wooden barge off the coast of Libya on Monday. Video: Defence Forces

 

With 100 Africans sleeping on rocks overlooking the Italian coast after being turned back at the French border, Rome and Paris argued yesterday over who should handle the waves of migrants landing on Italy’s shores.

Italy has long argued that it and Greece cannot be expected to cope alone with the influx, just because they are the closest landing points for political and economic migrants from all over Africa and the Middle East who are making for the European Union in rickety boats.

Italy’s interior minister, Angelino Alfano, told reporters in Milan that scenes in Ventimiglia, where a Reuters photographer saw about 100 mostly African migrants asleep just 30 minutes from the French Riviera, were “a punch in the face to all the European countries that want to close their eyes”.

But France’s interior minister, Bernard Cazeneuve, said that France would continue to turn back the migrants and that Italy must follow the EU’s Dublin regulations, which assign most asylum seekers to the first EU country they enter until their applications have been processed.

“They do not have the right to pass [into France] and must be handled by Italy,” he told BFM TV.

Mr Cazeneuve said that about 15,000 migrants had been turned back at France’s borders in 2014 and that he had ordered even tougher controls this year. “This needs to be done to ensure a welcome for those who are [political] refugees,” he said.

Many EU governments are under growing pressure from anti-immigration parties, such as France’s National Front or Britain’s UK Independence Party (Ukip).

Italy’s prime minister, Matteo Renzi, whose party lost ground to the anti-immigration Northern League in regional elections last month, called for a change to the regulations.

Responsibility

Muammar Gadafy

After hearing of Mr Cazeneuve’s comments, he added: “If Europe wants to be Europe, it has to take on this problem as a single bloc. This is Plan A. The muscular stance of some ministers of some friendly countries goes in the opposite direction.

“If it’s Italy’s problem because Europe closes its eyes, then Italy will do it on its own. But in that case it would be a defeat not for Italy, but for the very idea of Europe.”

Mr Renzi is to discuss the issue with France’s president, Francois Hollande, and Britain’s prime minister, David Cameron, when they visit Italy this week. – (Reuters)