Fears of a 'Calais in Italy' as migrants keep flooding across the Mediterranean
Italy fears “another Calais” on its border with France as desperate migrants and refugees are thwarted in their bid to cross the frontier and reach northern Europe.
Tighter border controls by the French authorities have created a bottleneck around the Italian town of Ventimiglia, just a few miles from the French border.
The Italians are trying to transfer migrants and refugees to reception centres in other parts of the country in order to prevent the development of ramshackle camps such as the notorious ‘Jungle’ in Calais and the tent village that sprung up earlier this year at Idomeni, along the border between Greece and Macedonia.
“Our border with France will not become another Calais,” Angelino Alfano, the Italian interior minister, told La Repubblica newspaper.
There is increasing frustration among the refugees and migrants stuck at the border, many of whom are living in charity-run centres where they are provided with basic shelter and food and drink. Others are living on rocky shoals on the Italian side of the frontier, hoping for an opportunity to make a clandestine crossing.
Hundreds of migrants are also stranded on Italy’s border with Switzerland, where they had hoped to claim asylum.
Blocked from crossing the frontier by the Italian authorities, around 400 are camping out in a park in the lakeside town of Como, which traditionally attracts well-heeled visitors during the summer months, most notably George Clooney and his British human rights lawyer wife, Amal.
Mario Lucini, Como’s mayor, yesterday[tue] said the situation was becoming “worrying”.
But the refugees and migrants are determined to do all they can to cross the border.
Many are in search of relatives already living in northern Europe.
“I had a small shop in Addis Ababa but I had to flee with my wife and three children,” Ahmed, an Ethiopian man, said.
“In Ethiopia they throw you into prison for no reason, they confiscate land from farmers and sell it to foreigners, we could not stay. It took us months and months to get here. We are refugees, the Swiss will help us.”
In Ventimiglia, some have even resorted to plunging into the sea in a desperate attempt to circumvent border police and reach French territory.
Around 150 who jumped into the sea were returned by the French authorities to Italy at the weekend. The migrants, many of them from Eritrea, Ethiopia and Sudan, are being supported by an international activist group, No Borders.
In recent days Italian police have confiscated a small arsenal of weapons from the activists, including clubs, knives, axes and wrenches. They also seized a sinister, skeleton-like glove equipped with three long blades, of the type worn by the action film character Wolverine.
Six activists were arrested at the weekend – five French citizens and an Italian. Others were charged with possession of dangerous weapons.
France insists that the migrants and refugees landed in Italy from north Africa and that, under EU rules, they should remain there while they make their claims for asylum or refugee status.
Around 500 migrants are being housed in a temporary reception centre on the outskirts of Ventimiglia.
Mr Alfano, the interior minister, said: “The truth is that until now we have not had the problems that the British and the French have had at Calais. The system in Italy has worked well.”
Franco Gabrielli, the national head of police, said the situation at Ventimiglia had to be defused.
“There is only one way to do that – by taking these people to other parts of the country.”
But he conceded that other migrants and refugees will continue to arrive.
Around 94,000 migrants and refugees, most of them African, have reached Italy so far this year from the coast of Libya and, to a lesser extent, neighbouring Egypt.
They pay gangs of people smugglers for passage in rubber dinghies and often unseaworthy ex-fishing boats.
Italy has been overwhelmed by the massive influx of people coming across the Mediterranean. Since the start of 2014 it has had to deal with around 420,000 migrants, many of whom were determined to leave Italy as quickly as possible and head to richer countries such as Germany, France and the UK.
But figures released yesterday revealed the number of migrants refused entry at Germany’s borders has risen sharply, in a sign Angela Merkel’s government is turning away from her “open-door” refugee policy.
Some 13,324 people were denied entry at German land borders and airports in the first six months of 2016, compared to 9,913 in the whole of 2015, according to government figures.
( Source )