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French police boarded a train that had just crossed into the country from Italy on Sunday night and detained around 100 migrants, a move that sparked a protest where several pro-migrant activists were also arrested.
The train carrying the migrants was stopped at around 10:50pm local time in Menton, a town in the southeast corner of France near the Italy border. French authorities returned the migrants to the border, where they were taken to shelters in the Italian town of Ventimiglia.
"A hundred migrants, accompanied by [migrant advocacy group] No Border activists, took the last regional train out of Ventimiglia to reach France," Martine Landry, who oversees the local Amnesty International chapter and runs a migrant shelter in Menton, told VICE News.
Landry said the migrants were arrested after "riot police boarded every train carriage simultaneously and made migrants disembark."
According to Landry, a spontaneous demonstration erupted outside the Menton train station around 4am on Monday morning, leading to the arrest of 17 Italian No Border activists. The activists, who were mainly students, were taken to the police station in Ventimiglia and released Monday. They were reportedly banned from returning to Ventimiglia for three years.
Authorities in the nearby city of Nice confirmed that three French activists who were also arrested at the demonstration remained in custody Monday on charges of disrupting the public order.
Ventimiglia is about seven miles away from Menton, and many migrants and refugees camp out there awaiting an opportunity to cross into France and travel farther north. Italy is often only a first port of call for many of the migrants who risk their lives crossing the Mediterranean in hopes of eventually reaching Sweden, Germany, or the United Kingdom.
Related: What We Witnessed at a French Migrant Camp Allegedly Controlled by People Smugglers
Une centaine de migrants interpellés alors qu'ils passaient la frontière à Menton — Nice-Matin (@Nice_Matin)9 Août 2015
Around 100 migrants arrested as they crossed the border in Menton.
According to Italy's coast guard, more than 1,000 migrants were rescued after trying to cross the Mediterranean in flimsy inflatable dinghies over the weekend. On Monday, Greece's coast guard said it rescued 1,417 migrants in 60 separate operations over three days. The Greek Islands have become a major gateway for migrants, including many who are fleeing conflicts in Syria and Afghanistan.
Related: The Number of Migrants Trying to Reach Europe via Greece Has Surged by 500 Percent
In June, French police started blocking the France-Italy border, pushing many migrants back to the border. About 50 migrants refused to be evacuated and took refuge on the rocks by the Mediterranean coast, close to the French border.
Some of the migrants eventually set up a makeshift camp under a railway bridge, meters away from the France-Italy border. Those who were taken back to Ventimiglia are now housed in a Red Cross shelter near the train station.
New migrants arrive every day at the border, hoping to cross from Italy into France. When French authorities stop migrants who are registered in Italy, they send them back across the border, but the Italian authorities are under no obligation to readmit unaccompanied minors.
French authorities say they have stopped 168 unaccompanied minors along the French-Italian border in June alone, compared to 174 in the whole of 2014. As a result of this uptick, local shelters are operating over capacity, and the region's reception center for minors currently houses 190 young people, 20 more than it is designed to accommodate.
Follow Pierre Longeray on Twitter : @PLongeray
Top photo shows African migrants crying as Italian police attempt to remove them at the Franco-Italian border between Menton and Ventimiglia, on June 16, 2015.
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