Authorities in the south east of France are growing alarmed at the rising number of African immigrants pouring through the border with Italy, according to reports on Tuesday.
The news of the massive influx of east Africans, mostly from Eritrea, has led the local centre-right MP Eric Ciotti to call for an overhaul of France’s immigration system, to make sure foreigners do not have the same access to welfare benefits as French nationals.
According to Le Figaro newspaper authorities in the south east region of France held a crisis meeting in Nice recently to discuss the huge jump in migrants coming across the border from Italy.
The rise is due to the massive numbers of immigrants arriving in Italy from Africa– 61, 591 between January and June this year, compared to 7, 913 for the same period in 2013.
Eritreans made up 31 percent of this total, while people fleeing war-torn Syria accounted for 17 percent.
This has increased the "migratory pressure on the border with Italy," the French report said, adding that 5,200 arrests had been made there so far in 2014.
Reacting to the news Eric Ciotti, the UMP deputy for the Alpes-Maritimes department, said France needed “to reduce the attractiveness of the country from a social capacity.”
“It is not logical that foreigners have the same benefits as nationals,” said Ciotti.
The UMP deputy went on to say that France “is becoming the weak link in immigration policy” and it should follow the example of the UK, where Prime Minister David Cameron wants to tighten restrictions on benefits to unemployed EU immigrants.
Ciotti did soften his tone though when it came to the subject of immigration in general.
“France has always reached out to the persecuted. Do not confuse asylum, a way for our country to be faithful to its human rights traditions, with massive illegal immigration networks,” he said.
The increasingly influential National Front pointed to the fact that they have long called for reductions in welfare benefits for foreigners, whether it be access to social housing or family allowances.
France’s government attempted on Tuesday to play down fears of mass illegal migration to France.
The interior ministry told AFP that "everything, including a drop in asylum-seekers in France in the first half of 2014, points to the fact that migrants see France as a transit country."
For Pierre Henry, from one of France’s immigrants’ rights groups France Terre d’Asile, the problems have arisen because of the refusal of the European Union to help out Italy, which has been asking for help since the beginning of the year.”
“There has been no response,” he said.