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IMMIGRATION

Migrants rush to help after Venice tornado

Dozens of migrants are helping to clean up debris and rebuild homes destroyed by a tornado in the Venice area last week, telling the Italian media they wanted to help those who "had lost everything".

Migrants rush to help after Venice tornado
The tornado in the outskirts of Venice killed one person and injured over 30. Screengrab: The Storm/YouTube

The tornado, captured on video, swept through he Riviera del Brenta last Wednesday, killing one and injuring more than 30, while rooftops were blown off dozens of homes and other buildings.

Hundreds of people are helping to help clear up the debris including many refugees, Nuova Venezia reported.

“They escaped from the destruction of war, and now roll up their sleeves for the destruction of the tornado,” the news website said.

The migrants, who are temporarily housed in the town of Mirano and nearby Padua, turned up to help clean up the streets and rebuild homes.

“I didn’t think about it for a second when they asked me,” one of the migrants, Kamil, told Corriere del Veneto.

“It’s a real disaster around here. Without the help of volunteers, they wouldn’t be able to do it. Some people have lost everything, we had to give them a hand – they did it for us when we arrived, I do not see why we shouldn’t do it for them.”

Another volunteer told Nuovo Venezia: “As soon as they heard about what happened they offered to lend a hand to people whose homes suffered damage. They felt it was their duty”.

The migrants sprung to help despite the Veneto region vowing in June to refuse to accommodate any more migrants.

The region’s right-wing president, Luca Zaia, said at the time that Veneto was “like a bomb ready to go off. The social tensions are absolutely crazy.”

Leaders of other wealthy northern regions, including Lombardy and Liguria, adopted the same stance. 

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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