20th Oct 2021

EU ministers discuss migrant scheme

  • Italy's PM threatened to clamp down on arriving migrants (Photo:

Interior ministers are meeting in Luxembourg on Tuesday (16 June) to discuss a plan to distribute asylum seekers in Europe based on criteria like GDP and population size.

But a decision is unlikely anytime soon despite threats from Italian prime minister Mateo Renzi to “hurt” Europe should member states refuse to ease the migratory pressure in Italy.

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If no deal is made, Italy says it will issue temporary visas to new migrant arrivals so that they can travel anywhere in the European Union without restrictions, reports the Guardian.

Close to 60,000 migrants reached Italy’s shore from Libya this year alone, with many heading north to seek asylum in other member states. Similar numbers are cited for Greece.

Austria, France, and Switzerland have sealed off their borders to migrants and are sending anyone they catch back into Italy. The standoff at the borders has erupted into a larger row between France and Italy ,with some 200 African migrants stuck at Ventimiglia.

French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve on Monday said it is up to Rome to handle their asylum claims because the migrants first arrived in Italy.

"When migrants arrive in France that have been through Italy and registered there, the European law applies and that means they must be returned to Italy,” he said.

France has returned some 6,000 to Italy since the start of the year.

Renzi says Italy will impose its own rules and methods should other member states abrogate on earlier calls on solidarity.

"A solid country such as ours can't allow France to have ships in the Mediterranean and leave (migrants) in Italy," said Renzi, cited by ANSA.

The crisis has piled on pressure on Renzi’s centre-left government amid gains made by the anti-immigration Northern League in recent regional elections.

The distribution plan was first announced in late April by the European Commission and would require member states to take in 40,000 asylum seekers landing in Italy and Greece over a two-year period.

Some 24,000 would be relocated from Italy and 16,000 from Greece.

The binding distribution and criteria has generated reproaches from eastern European member states who want a voluntary scheme. Poland has also spoken out against it, while others like Austria, Germany, Italy and Sweden are in favour.

France and Germany would take in around 30 percent.

The plans are not binding for the UK, Ireland, and Denmark.

The UK and Ireland have special “opt-in” rights in the area of freedom, security and home affairs – including everything that concerns asylum and migration. Denmark, for its part, has an “opt-out” clause and doesn’t participate at all in justice and home affairs issues.

"What is required here is a collective agreement if possible. I think what you are getting from Italy for the moment is a reflection of the frustration from Italy that more isn't happening here," Ireland's minister of defence Simon Coveney said on Tuesday.

The plans will be discussed again among leaders at a summit at the end of the month.

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