Dispute over migration policy: France tightens border controls

Status: 14.11.2022 09:17 hrs

The dispute between Paris and Rome over Italy’s migration policy leads to traffic jams in the south of France. Because the French government is tightening its border controls in response. France is also suspending an agreement to take in refugees.

After the diplomatic dispute with Italy over the admission of migrants, France has tightened controls on its southern border. Long queues arose at the crossings towards France at the weekend. Police patrolled trains and streets to prevent migrants from entering the country. In contrast, traffic from the French side flowed smoothly towards Italy.

France had sent 500 additional troops to fortify its borders. The extra checks are a response to the delayed aid to rescue ships in Italy. On the crossing from Ventimiglia to Menton, police officers stopped almost every car. The drivers had to open their trunks, large vehicles such as mobile homes were inspected.

Paris suspends solidarity agreement with Italy

For weeks, Italy had refused to allocate a port to four civilian rescue ships and to let the people rescued from the Mediterranean ashore. Only after doctors determined the fate of the migrants were three of the four ships allowed to disembark the refugees. The fourth ship, the Norwegian “Ocean Viking”, had to wait for days on its way to France. The organization SOS Méditerranée spoke of a “critical and dramatic failure of all European countries”.

In Toulon, France, the 234 people were finally able to land. Most of the migrants were housed in a holiday village, which had been declared a special “international waiting area” by the authorities. This places the area outside French territory and residents are not allowed to leave the area until their asylum applications have been processed. France and Germany now each want to take in a third of the migrants, the others will be distributed among ten other EU countries.

“Italy respects neither international law nor maritime law,” French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna told Le Parisien newspaper. The “Ocean Viking” was only registered as an exception. “There will be consequences if Italy sticks to this vision.” Paris has suspended a solidarity agreement, according to which 3,500 migrants rescued from the Mediterranean are to be taken over by Italy.

Criticism of Civilian Rescue at Sea

Civilian organizations – including those from Germany – have been deployed in the Central Mediterranean for years. Again and again there are conflicts in the allocation of ports and the reception of the rescued migrants. In a joint statement, Italy, Greece, Cyprus and Malta criticize the work of civilian rescue workers. The ships of the aid organizations acted “completely independently of the responsible state authorities”. “We reiterate our view that the modus operandi of these private vessels is not in line with the spirit of the international legal framework for search and rescue operations, which must be respected.” The four countries demanded that each state exercise jurisdiction and control over the ships flying its flag.

Italy’s far-right Prime Minister, Giorgia Meloni, recently announced new measures against NGO ships. Brussels should take “necessary steps” to ensure a discussion about the future of such operations, it said.

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