France reinstates controls along border with Italy to halt migrants
(19 April 2011)
On 17 April French officials in the border town of Menton stopped a train from Italy entering the country. The train, which was carrying Tunisian migrants from Italy, was stopped at the border station of Ventimiglia. The train had been referred to as the ‘Train of Dignity’ by activists in support of the migrants, who were intending to board at Ventimiglia. Reports suggest there were 60 Tunisian migrants aboard the train. The move has resulted in protest from the Italian government, who claim it is a violation of European principles under the Schengen agreement. In the southeast corner of France it is reported that between 400-500 officers have been deployed. At the Saint-Ludovic border station approximately 2800 Tunisians have been detained since mid-February, with 1700 of these being returned to Italy.
Many of the Tunisian migrants who had reached Italy by boat have received temporary residence permits, with estimates of 26,000 having received the permits. The Italian government has argued that such permits allow visa-free travel to other EU Member States, however the French government has said it will only allow entry if those migrants holding the permits can prove they have sufficient financial support. The border patrols by French police are the first to take place since the implementation of the Schengen visa-free travel agreement. France is not the only country to take this stance however, with Germany and Belgium also stating that they will implement border controls.
Italy has offered the migrants temporary residence permits for up to six months largely in protest of what it feels has been a lack of assistance from other EU Member States, stating that it has been left on its own to deal with the increased migration, predominantly to the island of Lampedusa. EU Commissioner Malmström has stated that Italy is within its rights to award the permits. However, Italy has recently struck an agreement with Tunisia that any migrants who arrive after 5 April will be repatriated to Tunisia. News of the agreement led to a small riot by those still detained on Lampedusa on 12 April, after several planes had begun flying migrants to Tunisia.
Meanwhile France and Italy have reached agreement over the conducting of sea-and-air patrols off the Tunisian coast to block migrants from leaving. Migrants are continuing to arrive on Lampedusa, as well as other Italian islands, however many have drowned making the journey. Over 100 migrants were missing after a boat capsized earlier this month. In response to the recent influx of migrants from North Africa, Italian MEP Fracesco Speroni of the anti-immigrant Northern Front, has advocated that Italy take arms to defend its borders, and was quoted as saying “Do not mistake the Tunisians. If someone invades the territorial waters of a sovereign country, that country is allowed to use weapons, this is international law.”
Sources: ‘Italy angry as France blocks migrant trains’, Al Jazeera, 17 April 2011; ‘Italy protests as France blocks train carrying migrants from Tunisia’, The Guardian, 17 April 2011; ‘'Is This Your Democracy?' Refugee Influx Exposes Limitations of European Solidarity’, Fiona Ehlers, Mathieu von Rohr and Christoph Schult, Spiegel, 19 April 2011; ‘Italy and France agree North Africa migrant patrol’, BBC News, 8 April 2011; ‘Hopes fade for Italy boat victims’, BBC News, 7 April 2011 ‘MEP Francesco Speroni: Italy Entitled to Use Weapons to Prevent Landings by Migrant Boats’, Migrants at Sea, 13 April 2011; ‘Tunisian migrants riot on Italian island’, Al Jazeera, 12 April 2011