Help us with mi­grants or face ‘hurt,’ Italy tells Europe


Italy threat­ened Sun­day to turn to a Plan B to deal with mi­grants that “would hurt Europe” if the coun­try is not given greater help with the cri­sis, as Aus­tria and France ex­pelled asy­lum seek­ers back onto Ital­ian soil.

The coun­try is strug­gling to ac­com­mo­date an end­less wave of boat mi­grants, and a crack­down on se­cu­rity at the French and Aus­trian bor­ders over the past few days has ex­ac­er­bated the sit­u­a­tion, caus­ing a bot­tle­neck at Italy’s train sta­tions.

The cri­sis “should not be un­der­es­ti­mated,” Prime Min­is­ter Mat­teo Renzi said in an in­ter­view pub­lished in the Cor­riere della Sera daily.

“It is a se­ri­ous is­sue and, let me be clear, Europe’s an­swers so far have not been good enough,” he added.

The EU is hav­ing dif­fi­culty achiev­ing con­sen­sus for its pro­posed mi­grant dis­tri­bu­tion plan — un­der which 24,000 refugees would be taken in by other coun­tries — but Italy is hop­ing an EU sum­mit on June 25- 26 will go even fur­ther.

“Re­dis­tribut­ing just 24,000 peo­ple is al­most a provo­ca­tion,” Renzi said.

“If Europe chooses sol­i­dar­ity, good. If it doesn’t, we have Plan B ready. But it would first and fore­most hurt Europe,” he said, with­out pro­vid­ing de­tails.

The pre­mier has come un­der pres­sure to take a stronger stance with the 28-mem­ber bloc, with the anti-estab­lish­ment Five Star move­ment sug­gest­ing Italy threaten to freeze its EU bud­get con­tri­bu­tions if aid is not forth­com­ing.

More than 57,000 mi­grants and asy­lum seek­ers have been res­cued at sea and brought to Italy so far this year — up from 54,000 at the same time last year — Renzi said, and Rome wants other coun­tries to shoul­der part of the bur­den.

It also wants the EU to share the cost of quickly repa­tri­at­ing wouldbe eco­nomic mi­grants, who cur­rently make up around 60 per­cent of those ar­riv­ing by boat.

Renzi will raise the is­sue with his Bri­tish and French coun­ter­parts when they travel to Mi­lan this week, and he said he would also speak to Euro­pean Com­mis- sion head Jean-Claude Juncker and Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel.

‘Europe’s re­spon­si­bil­ity’

Un­der the Dublin Con­ven­tion, refugees must ap­ply for asy­lum in the first coun­try of en­try to Europe — a rule which Italy says is un­fair as it leaves Rome to deal with the thou­sands of mi­grants wash­ing up on its shores.

Greece has also long com­plained of be­ing left with the same prob­lem.

The Schen­gen open bor­ders ac­cord has un­til now meant those land­ing in Italy can usu­ally eas­ily travel through neigh­bor­ing France, Aus­tria, Switzer­land and Slove­nia as they seek to make it to the UK, Ger­many and Scan­di­navia.

But bor­der con­trols have been tem­po­rar­ily rein­tro­duced be­cause of the G-7 sum­mit in Ger­many a week ago, spark­ing mi­grant protests at the fron­tier with France where French po­lice have re­fused en­try to peo­ple hop­ing to head to north­ern Europe.

Some of the men, women and chil­dren from So­ma­lia, Eritrea, the Ivory Coast and Su­dan said they had ini­tially made it across the bor­der into France by train, but been ar­rested and es­corted back across the fron­tier by po­lice.

Aus­trian po­lice also an­nounced Sun­day they would be re­turn­ing to Italy 24 African mi­grants ar­rested while try­ing to get to Ger­many by train.

The clo­sure of the bor­ders has in­creased pres­sure on Italy’s al­ready over­crowded re­cep­tion fa­cil­i­ties, with hun­dreds of peo­ple sleep­ing rough among the tourists and trav­el­ers in the main train sta­tions in Rome and Mi­lan.

As tele­vi­sion images showed yet more fresh ar­rivals dis­em­bark­ing on Ital­ian soil, au­thor­i­ties in Mi­lan rushed to con­vert a ware­house into a cen­ter, while in Rome the civil pro­tec­tion agency set up a tem­po­rary tent camp to pro­vide shel­ter.

The Dublin Con­ven­tion “should be changed,” Renzi said, in­sist­ing the cur­rent chaos in Libya — from where many of the boats de­part — is “Europe’s re­spon­si­bil­ity in light of the (mil­i­tary) in­ter­ven­tion four years ago” by NATO to help rebels un­seat dic­ta­tor Moamer Kad­hafi.


Mi­grants eat as they sit on the ground at the main rail­way sta­tion in Mi­lan on Sun­day, June 14.

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