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France and Italy Can't Seem to Agree on What to Do About the Immigration Crisis

Since Thursday, 200 immigrants have been trying to cross the border between France and Italy, near the small town of Ventimiglia in Italy—but the French police have been preventing their entrance into the country.
Pierre Longeray
Paris, FR
Image via Wikimedia Commons / Clicsouris

Since Thursday June 11th, about 200 immigrants have been trying to cross the border between France and Italy, near the small town of Ventimiglia in Italy, but the French police have been preventing their entrance into the country. For the Italian Minister of the Interior, Angelino Alfano, this incident in Ventimiglia is "a slap in the face" from Europe. This weekend tensions increased between France and Italy concerning the issue of sharing responsibility for the increase in immigrants. The two countries are opposed in their visions of "European solidarity," which Ventimiglia has abruptly brought into stark relief.


Immigrants protecting themselves from the rain with survival blankets on the rocks of the Italian coast (Photo via Michael Alesi)

This Sunday, the Italian Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi, said in an interview with Corriere della Sera that he could institute a "Plan B" that would "hurt Europe" if his country didn't receive the help and solidarity of the EU's other members in welcoming immigrants. Renzi didn't specify what this Plan B might entail.

Italy is the favored port of entry for immigrants — nearly 57,000 people have been welcomed by the Italian authorities since the beginning of 2015. Italy's neighbors — France, Austria, and Switzerland — send immigrants back to Italy when they try to cross the border.

Late in the afternoon on Saturday, the Italian police turned away a group of immigrants gathered on the French border near Ventimiglia, which is about three miles from the border checkpoint. The immigrants settled into the town train station. However, about 50 migrants refused to be evacuated and are still taking "refuge" on the rocks by the Mediterranean, a few miles from the French border.

On Sunday morning, as the migrants continued to protest peacefully with signs that read "We need to pass" or, "We need freedom," a dozen far-right activists from the small political group "Génération Identitaire" unfurled a red banner with the words "No way. You will not make Europe home." The Italian police swiftly put a stop to the group's actions, which had already been publicized at the end of May when they unfurled a similar banner in Paris.


The Alpes Maritimes prefect, Adolphe Colrat, declared on Friday that during the preceding week, 1,439 illegal immigrants had been arrested by law enforcement authorities in the southeast department of France. Just over 1000 were brought back to Italy. This weekend, in Ventimiglia, the French police prevented further immigrants, particularly from Somalia, Côte d'Ivoire, and Sudan, from entering France.

Related: The Number of Migrants Trying to Reach Europe via Greece Has Surged by 500 Percent

The European Union's Dublin Regulation requires immigrants to make their applications for asylum in their first country of entry. The regulation means Italy, which saw 171,000 immigrants arrive in 2014, or Greece, will receive the overwhelming majority of applications for asylum. The Italian Prime Minister considers it unfair that his country should have to shoulder the burden of the immigrants alone, and would prefer that Italy be primarily an entrance for most immigrants to reach other countries such as the United Kingdom, Germany, or even Sweden.

According to Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, the Dublin Convention should be "modified," but Bernard Cazeneuve, the French Minister of the Interior, does not share the same sentiments. Cazeneuve said on Monday morning on BFM TV that "It is necessary to respect the Dublin rules." She proposed, however, opening "hotspots" in Italy — centers where illegal immigrants or asylum-seekers could be differentiated from one another. With the population organized accordingly, Cazeneuve claims to be interested in distributing immigrants among the member states of the EU, "because we certainly favor doing so, in terms of solidarity."


Critics say this is just Cazeneuve's way of saying she is in favor of distribution, as long as she knows that it's only of legal immigrants.

A preliminary meeting is scheduled for this Tuesday, ahead of a summit of European leaders on June 25, to discuss distributing immigrants eligible for refugee status. Around 24,000 immigrants would be affected by this distribution, a number so low that Matteo Renzi considers it "almost a provocation," because his country will welcome about 200,000 immigrants in 2015. The Italian minister of the interior, Angelino Alfano, spoke on Sky TG24 this Sunday and warned the European community: "We will not accept a selfish Europe."

Related: More Than 50,000 Migrants Have Arrived in Italy This Year

This Monday, Kanayo Nwanze, the president of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), an United Nations specialized agency, announced that immigrants working in Europe had sent 109.4 billion dollars to their home countries in 2014. The UN agency's report says that this financial windfall is valuable help to more than 150 million people in the world.

Nwanze said the people hit hardest by the ongoing conflicts in Iraq, Mali, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen receive considerable aid from immigrant workers living in Europe. Additionally, he said these families need to have "access to more competitive money-transfer markets and financial services targeted to help them save and/or invest their funds."

Related: Paris Plans to Open Migrant Shelter Days After Violently Evicting Migrants from Camp