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7th Jun 2020

'Calais of Italy' mayor pleads with MEPs for help

  • Migrants await winter in the Italian town of Ventimiglia (Photo: Agostino Loffredi/Oxfam)

"Extremely difficult" migration situations, like the one happening now in the Italian town of Ventimiglia, can be properly addressed only through a reform of the so-called 'Dublin' regulation, the town's mayor Enrico Ioculano told the European Parliament on Wednesday (6 December).

Ventimiglia is a town on the border between Italy and France, one of the transit points from where migrants try to reach the rest of Europe from Italy, and has turned into a bottleneck after the reintroduction of border controls by France in 2015.

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A high numbers of migrants who try to cross the border with France are rejected by the French authorities, and sometimes try to cross illegally, often taking dangerous routes.

Stuck either in a Red Cross camp or in a illegal camp by the river in Ventimiglia, migrants live in sort of legal and human limbo.

This is why the Ligurian city has been repeatedly labelled as 'the Calais of Italy.'

The current Dublin system prescribes that asylum seekers' country of arrival into the EU is responsible for examining applications.

This causes major migratory issues, such as in Ventimiglia, especially if combined with the reintroduction of border controls.

Ioculano said a response to the consequences of the migration crisis "can only be provided" by the EU as a whole, and called on European countries "to do their part" in the framework of a future system of shared responsibility for asylum seekers.

Selfish, individualistic, unprincipled

The EU, Ioculano told EUobserver, has so far been "very selfish, individualistic and far from its principles."

Over the next few days the Italian mayor and MEPs from the centre-left S&D group will have meetings with EU commissioners and S&D MEP Sylvie Guillaume - who represents the parliament in relations with the International Organization for Migration - to show evidence about the situation in Ventimiglia.

The chaos in the town demonstrates that proper functioning of the current Dublin regulation is "impossible" said S&D MEP Brando Benifei.

Instead of a planned 60-80 asylum seekers in Ventimiglia, there are over 600, and this situation causes problems in the town and surrounding areas, explained Benifei.

600 migrants and asylum-seekers in a town of 20,000 inhabitants makes the issue very complicated, Ioculano said.

Migrants are mainly from Sudan, Eritrea, sub-Saharan Africa and, lately, Tunisia and Morocco, according to Ioculano, while the number of Syrians is just "a few", the mayor said.

There are "shortcomings in the overall management", and a worryingly high number of children, he added.

Oxfam's Italy office recently published a report on the situation in Ventimiglia, describing it as "dramatic" - especially concerning minors, who number one in three of those in camps.

The current problems are exacerbated by the fact that "200 people live in a illegal camp by a river", the mayor estimates, and this could be dangerous during the winter due to the risk of floods.

During the last three to four years the flow of migrants coming from the south added to thousands of people rejected, sometimes physically, by the French authorities, the mayor said, resulting in a situation even "harder to handle."

The recent Italian deal to steam flows from Libya, "made us breathe again - we hope to breathe even better with the reform of the Dublin regulation" Ioculano told MEPs.

On 17 November the parliament agreed on a revised Dublin regulation, for which the member state of arrival would no longer be "solely responsible for examining asylum applications".

It also states that asylum applicants should be "distributed more evenly across the European Union", introducing a sanction mechanism - such as limitations to access to EU funds – for non-complying countries.

Member states will discuss the proposal in the coming months. Migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said on Wednesday (6 December) that an agreement is likely in three or four months.

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The Estonian EU presidency plan for a 'Dublin' reform appears hard-pressed to gain traction given it will not be discussed by EU leaders at a December summit - and that the EU parliament has described it as a non-starter.

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The Dublin regulation is already subject to occasional and selective suspension. Suspending Schengen free movement rules would erode one of the fundamental principles of the EU.

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