Tense relations between Italy and France over illegal immigrants continued yesterday as French border controls blocked trains coming into France via the Italian border.
Thousands of immigrants have been arriving on the south Italian island of Lampedusa since civil unrest began in Northern Africa. Although many had claimed political asylum, they were not considered refugees as they were arriving from Tunisia rather than Libya. After strong protests by local residents about the pile-up of immigrants in overcrowded ‘collection’ centres, PM Silvio Berlusconi flew to Lampedusa himself, promising that all would be cleared up in a matter of days. He also added that he had bought a house on the island for himself via the internet (later proved untrue).
Italian authorities eventually managed to move the immigrants to other centres throughout the country appealing to the EU for help in allocating them throughout the continent. After a rebuff from countries like Germany and neighbouring France, where most Tunisians intend to eventually settle, Italy issued temporary visas to migrants which it says allows them to travel to certain other EU countries within the Schengen agreement zone. Not so, says France who says that since most do not have regular passports or means by which to support themselves, they are therefore Italy’s responsibility as first recipients of the immigrant influx.
The immigrant row has been a tough test for European unity with Interior Minister Roberto Maroni threatening to pull out of the EU in the light of lack of response over the problem. Foreign Minister Franco Frattini (pic. right) later calmed the stormy waters although called on greater cooperation between member countries. A meeting between Mr Berlusconi and French PM Nicolas Sarkozy is planned for 27th April.