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REFUGEE CRISIS

IMMIGRATION

Italy sends 100 refugees to France and Spain

Italy will send 100 refugees to France and Spain this week under the European Union scheme aimed at easing the burden of the migration crisis on frontline countries.

Italy sends 100 refugees to France and Spain
An Eritrean refugee waves goodbye as he leaves for Sweden on October 9th. Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

Marco Morcone, the official in charge of implementing national immigration policy, told Reuters that 100 people would leave at the beginning of this week for France, Spain and “maybe Sweden”, while adding that offers from other countries to take people in have been limited.

The bitterly contested plan has lagged, with only 86 refugees leaving Italy for Sweden and Finland in October. Under the agreement devised in September, 80 refugees were supposed to leave Italy each day as part of a plan that would see 40,000 relocated over two years.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel ordered Italy and Greece to urgently set up so-called ‘hotspots’ to swiftly process asylum requests, arguing that the redistribution plan depended on it.

Four centres will be operational by the end of November and two more by the end of the year, Morcone told Reuters.

Although nine EU countries had volunteered to take in 854 people from Italy, according to the European Commission, Morcone said that Italy had only received offers for 350.

When the plan kicked off in early October, 19 Eritreans, bound for Sweden, were waved off from Rome’s Fiumicino airport by Interior Minister Angelino Alfano and EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos. Alfano hailed the day as “an important one for the EU”.

Almost 140,000 migrants have arrived in Italy so far this year, a nine percent decline on last year.

POLITICS

How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area

European countries agreed on Thursday to push towards a long-stalled reform of the bloc's migration system, urging tighter control of external borders and better burden-sharing when it comes to asylum-seekers.

How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area
European interior ministers met in the northern French city of tourcoing, where president Emmanuel Macron gave a speech. Photo: Yoat Valat/AFP

The EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson, speaking after a meeting of European interior ministers, said she welcomed what she saw as new momentum on the issue.

In a reflection of the deep-rooted divisions on the issue, France’s Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin – whose country holds the rotating EU presidency – said the process would be “gradual”, and welcomed what he said was unanimous backing.

EU countries backed a proposal from French President Emmanuel Macron to create a council guiding policy in the Schengen area, the passport-free zone used by most EU countries and some affiliated nations such as Switzerland and Norway.

Schengen council

Speaking before the meeting, Macron said the “Schengen Council” would evaluate how the area was working but would also take joint decisions and facilitate coordination in times of crisis.

“This council can become the face of a strong, protective Europe that is comfortable with controlling its borders and therefore its destiny,” he said.

The first meeting is scheduled to take place on March 3rd in Brussels.

A statement released after the meeting said: “On this occasion, they will establish a set of indicators allowing for real time evaluation of the situation at our borders, and, with an aim to be able to respond to any difficulty, will continue their discussions on implementing new tools for solidarity at the external borders.”

Step by step

The statement also confirmed EU countries agreed to take a step-by-step approach on plans for reforming the EU’s asylum rules.

“The ministers also discussed the issues of asylum and immigration,” it read.

“They expressed their support for the phased approach, step by step, put forward by the French Presidency to make headway on these complex negotiations.

“On this basis, the Council will work over the coming weeks to define a first step of the reform of the European immigration and asylum system, which will fully respect the balance between the requirements of responsibility and solidarity.”

A planned overhaul of EU migration policy has so far foundered on the refusal of countries such as the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia to accept a sharing out of asylum-seekers across the bloc.

That forces countries on the EU’s outer southern rim – Italy, Greece, Malta and Spain – to take responsibility for handling irregular migrants, many of whom are intent on making their way to Europe’s wealthier northern nations.

France is pushing for member states to commit to reinforcing the EU’s external borders by recording the details of every foreign arrival and improving vetting procedures.

It also wants recalcitrant EU countries to financially help out the ones on the frontline of migration flows if they do not take in asylum-seekers themselves.

Johansson was critical of the fact that, last year, “45,000 irregular arrivals” were not entered into the common Eurodac database containing the fingerprints of migrants and asylum-seekers.

Earlier, German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser suggested her country, France and others could form a “coalition of the willing” to take in asylum-seekers even if no bloc-wide agreement was struck to share them across member states.

She noted that Macron spoke of a dozen countries in that grouping, but added that was probably “very optimistic”.

Luxembourg’s foreign minister, Jean Asselborn, hailed what he said was “a less negative atmosphere” in Thursday’s meeting compared to previous talks.

But he cautioned that “we cannot let a few countries do their EU duty… while others look away”.

France is now working on reconciling positions with the aim of presenting propositions at a March 3rd meeting on European affairs.

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