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IMMIGRATION

France to send more police to Italy border after clashes with protesters

France's interior minister said he would send "significant" security reinforcements to the country's Alpine border with Italy after a weekend of protest actions by pro and anti migrant groups.

France to send more police to Italy border after clashes with protesters
French gendarmes clashing with demonstrators taking part in a protest walk to help nearly 30 migrants to cross the border to France. Photo: AFP PHOTO / LOCALTEAM
Far-right groups and pro-migrant activists have turned the mountain passes by the border, which are used by migrants travelling from Italy to France, into a stage for “provocations” and “posturing”, Gerard Collomb said.
   
“Faced with these unacceptable actions,” the minister, whose controversial immigration law was adopted Sunday by the National Assembly, said “significant police and gendarme reinforcements” would be deployed.
   
The extra security forces will “ensure absolute respect for the control of the border,” he added.
   
Late Saturday and early Sunday, activists from a small French far-right group blocked a key mountain pass some six kilometres from the Italian border which they say is a “strategic point for illegal migrants”, prompting a furious reaction from pro-migrant activists.
 
French gendarmes standing guard as demonstrators take part in a protest walk to help nearly 30 migrants to cross the border to France. Photo: AFP  
 
On Sunday afternoon, a procession of French and Italian pro-migrant groups crossed the border at the Montgenevre Pass, alongside some 30 migrants, and had some minor scuffles with law enforcement officials on the way, a police source said.
   
The interior ministry said “violence was committed against security forces and a gendarme vehicle was damaged”.
   
Thousands of young men from francophone west Africa have trudged across the mountains over the past two years, dreaming of jobs in France.
   
In recent months, as news about the route — one of the lesser known on Europe's migrant trail — filtered back to Africa, the arrivals have gained pace.
   
Most of those crossing the Alps in recent months have been from Guinea or Ivory Coast, both former French colonies.
 
French gendarmes clashing with demonstrators. Photo: AFP
 
Few have any hope of being granted refugee status, being considered economic migrants for fleeing a crippling lack of jobs and opportunities at home rather than war.
   
Collomb said the legislation passed Sunday aims for “better controlled” immigration, halving the waiting time for asylum applications to six months while also making it easier to deport those turned down as “economic” migrants.
   
However the legislation, criticised by rightwingers for being too soft and by leftwingers who see it as repressive, has exposed unprecedented divisions in President Emmanuel Macron's young centrist party.

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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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