France and Italy clash as rift opens over mi­grants


Italy and France en­gaged in a war of words Mon­day as a stand­off over 250 Africans stuck at their com­mon bor­der ex­posed di­vi­sions over Europe’s mi­grant cri­sis.

Ital­ian In­te­rior Min­is­ter An­gelino Al­fano de­scribed images of mi­grants perched on rocks at the bor­der town of Ven­timiglia af­ter be­ing re­fused en­try to France as a “punch in the face for Europe.”

His French coun­ter­part Bernard Cazeneuve hit back by in­sist­ing that France was fully within its rights to send il­le­gal im­mi­grants or asy­lum seek­ers back to Italy.

The clash sets the scene for some tough ex­changes when the two men and other Euro­pean Union min­is­ters meet Tues­day in Lux­em­bourg for talks on the cri­sis.

Around 250 mi­grants — most of them English-speak­ing Africans ac­cord­ing to AFP re­porters in Ven­timiglia — have been camped there for four days, protest­ing that they should be al­lowed to en­ter France on their way to their de­sired des­ti­na­tions in north­ern Europe.

“We will stay here to­mor­row, the day af­ter and even sev­eral months if it is nec­es­sary,” said one of the Africans, 20-year-old Brahim from Dar­fur in Su­dan.

“All we are ask­ing is to be al­lowed to pass through France to get to other coun­tries.”

Al­fano said the bor­der scenes were proof that the mi­grants had no de­sire to stay in Italy. “They want to go to other parts of Europe and they con­sider our coun­try as a tran­sit coun­try.”

Cazeneuve dis­missed that ar­gu­ment as ir­rel­e­vant, cit­ing the Dublin ac­cords un­der which new ar­rivals in the Euro­pean Union are sup­posed to be pro­cessed by the coun­try in which they first land.

“The Dublin rules must be re­spected,” the French min­is­ter said. “When mi­grants ar­rive in France that have been through Italy and reg­is­tered there, Euro­pean law ap­plies and that means they must be re­turned to Italy,” he told BFMTV.

Mount­ing Anger

Cazeneuve con­firmed that French au­thor­i­ties had been turn­ing back a grow­ing num­ber of mi­grants this year in a bid to pre­vent peo­ple with no claim to asy­lum en­ter­ing the coun­try, say­ing it was nec­es­sary to en­sure le­git­i­mate refugees could be ac­com­mo­dated.

But he de­nied that Paris had ef­fec­tively closed its bor­der in breach of the spirit of the Schen­gen ac­cords which pro­vide for pass­port-free travel around much of con­ti­nen­tal Europe.

Italy says the Dublin rules on pro­cess­ing mi­grants are no longer ap­pro­pri­ate given the scale of the prob­lem. More than 220,000 peo­ple have landed at its south­ern ports since the start of 2014 and there is mount­ing anger over what Rome sees as its EU part­ners closing their eyes to the con­se­quences of the mi­gra­tory flows.

The spike in the num­bers of peo­ple be­ing sent back to Italy in the last two weeks has in­creased the pres­sure on the coun­try’s re­cep­tion fa­cil­i­ties and led to a very vis­i­ble build-up of mi­grants sleep­ing rough in and around ma­jor train sta­tions: a devel­op­ment that has been pounced on by far-right politi­cians.

Prime Min­is­ter Mat­teo Renzi threat­ened on Sun­day to im­ple­ment a “Plan B” to deal with the mi­grant cri­sis that would “hurt” Europe.

Renzi did not spec­ify what op­tions he was con­sid­er­ing but Ital­ian me­dia re­ported Mon­day that Rome could start is­su­ing newly ar­rived mi­grants with tem­po­rary visas giv­ing them the right to travel through­out the Schen­gen zone.

Such a move would be po­lit­i­cally ex­plo­sive as it would se­ri­ously un­der­mine both the Dublin and Schen­gen ac­cords.

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