Dozens of migrants refused entry into France went on hunger strike on June 13 at the border crossing in Ventimiglia in Italy, where they organised a sit-in and threatened to block traffic.
The diplomatic wrangling came as migrants continued to languish at key points along Italy’s border with its northern neighbors after French police blocked border crossings last week, including at Ventimiglia, near the swank resorts of Nice and Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat on the French Riviera.
Italy says its European partners are shirking their responsibilities and leaving southern Mediterranean countries to handle the migrant emergency without effective support.
“Or if it’s just Italy’s problem, because Europe closes it eyes, then we’re in a position to face it”, said Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.
“I will say with great clarity: Kids, either we do equal distribution of migrants in Europe, or we organise refugee camps in Libya, or we organise a serious policy of repatriation”, he said.
“If Europe chooses solidarity, good”. He said he would also press for European help repatriating migrants who don’t qualify for asylum, saying Italy had borne the cost a year ago of sending back almost 16,000 migrants who were passed over for refugee status.
The Schengen open borders accord means migrants landing in Italy can usually easily travel through neighbouring France, Austria, Switzerland and Slovenia as they seek to make it to Britain, Germany and Scandinavia. Its prescriptions are often ignored, as many refugees still find their way to northern Europe.
The European Commission has proposed redistributing around 60,000 Syrian and Eritrean asylum seekers from Italy and Greece to other member states.
The League has leapt on fears that immigrants arriving on crowded boats from Africa could bring diseases like malaria and scabies into Italy despite reassurances from health authorities.
In Luxembourg, EU home affairs and justice ministers will discuss the Commission’s latest proposal, while the EUexecutive will also discuss the Schengen border issue in a closed-door meeting with the Italian, French and German ministers.
Il Corriere della Sera newspaper claimed one idea is denying port access to European vessels involved in rescue operations in the Mediterranean, thus forcing each country to take responsibility of the migrants it saves in global waters.
They included men, women and children, with many coming from Somalia, Eritrea, the Ivory Coast and Sudan. “If not, we have our ‘Plan B, ‘” he said, without elaborating.
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.
“This needs to be done to ensure the welcome of those who are refugees”.