12th Apr 2021

EU commission absolves France over Tunisia migrants

  • The EU commission will defend Schengen, Malmstrom says (Photo: European Commission)

France did not break any laws in its 'very limited' blocking of trains carrying Tunisian migrants from Italy and its act is not 'the end' of the border-free Schengen zone, home affairs commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said on Monday (18 April).

"In a letter received this morning, France said it was a question of public order and a very limited, singular case. Now traffic flows as usual. Based on the information we had so far, they were not in violation of the Schengen border code and they had the right to do it," she told reporters during a press briefing.

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Earlier on Monday, the French interior ministry said trains between Menton, France and Ventimiglia, Italy, were circulating normally.

French authorities on Sunday had temporarily halted trains and checked the travel documents of some 300 activists and Tunisian migrants who were heading to Nice for a protest against the increased border checks and push-backs on the Franco-Italian border.

According to Paris, it blocked the trains because the protest was not authorised. Some 10 trains have been affected by the disruption, five on each side of the Franco-Italian border.

"At no time was there a... closing of the border between France and Italy," interior ministry spokesman Pierre-Henri Brandet said.

France has stepped up its border checks with Italy after Italy issued temporary residence permits for some of the 26,000 Tunisian migrants who have arrived by boat in recent weeks. Austria, Germany and Belgium are also "increasing vigilance" on their borders and at airports.

Asked if these are signs of the beginning of the end of the border-free Schengen zone, Malmstrom said: "We will discuss this at the councils in May and June and it's always important to see if there are complaints and how we can solve them. But is this the end of Schengen? No, absolutely not. It would be very dangerous if it was, Schengen is one of the fundamentals of freedom of movement in the EU."

Faced with increasing anti-immigrant rhetoric across the EU, Malmstrom noted the importance of acting responsibly to inform the public about the issues involved.

"I'm always saying that what we're lacking in Europe today is leadership and solidarity. The commission is prepared to make lots of proposals for a common and asylum and migration policy, combating illegal immigration, but also allowing for legal migration, because we need labour force. We also need member states to show leadership when explaining this in their national debates," she said.

At an extraordinary meeting of home affairs ministers on 12 May, Malmstrom is set to put forward proposals for common migration and asylum rules for all 27 EU countries.

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