Right-wing migration demo blocks France-Italy border crossing

Around 100 far-right activists on Saturday tried to block a French alpine pass used by migrants in a bid to "ensure that no illegal immigrant can return to France".

Right-wing migration demo blocks France-Italy border crossing
Activists from the French far-right political movement Generation Identitaire placed a large banner and fence at Col de l'Echelle newar the France-Italy border. Photo: AFP

Members of the right-wing Generation Identity (GI) movement trudged through the snow up to Col de l'Echelle near the border with Italy where they erected a “symbolic border” and unfurled a huge banner telling migrants to “go back to your homeland”. They also planned to spend the night at the location.

Photo: AFP

The pass is a “strategic point of passage for illegal immigrants” entering from Italy, GI spokesman Romain Espino, told AFP, criticising what he called “a lack of courage of the public authorities”.

“With a little bit of will, we can control immigration and borders,” he added.

The group — mainly French but also including Italians, Hungarians, Danes, Austrians, English and Germans — set up a “symbolic frontier” using plastic wire mesh.

Photo: AFP

Espino said the activists want “to explain to the potential migrants that it is inhumane to make those people crossing the Mediterranean or the snow-covered Alps believe that these routes are not risky”.

“They are not going to find El Dorado, it's immoral. Those who pay for it are the French,” he added.

The local prefecture said in a statement the protest had gone off without any disturbance, adding that by early evening some of the activists had already left the site.  

For the past year, the French Alps have experienced a sharp increase in arrivals of young people, mostly from Guinea and Ivory Coast.

According to authorities, 1,900 illegal immigrants were sent back to Italy in 2017 compared to 315 the previous year.

Migration remains a big issue along the French-Italian border, interior minister Gerard Collomb said on Friday night, referencing some 50,000 people denied entry in 2017.

“We have decided to renew the border controls for six months,” he told lawmakers during a debate of the controversial asylum immigration bill which is branded “inhumane” by the left, but a “little law” by the right.

READ ALSO: French customs check across border irks Italy

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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.