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MIGRANT CRISIS

IMMIGRATION

Man caught smuggling migrants at Italy border

A Frenchman faces up to five years in prison after he was caught trying to smuggle a carload of migrants from Italy into France.

Man caught smuggling migrants at Italy border
The migrants were picked up in the northern Italian border town of Ventimiglia. Photo: Valery Hache/AFP

The 35-year-old man from Nice was crossing the Italian-French border on Monday night when police pulled him over, Le Parisien newspaper reported.

A source told the paper that the driver had been hanging around the northern Italian border town of Ventimiglia, where migrants congregate while trying to get into France.

When officers pulled over the man's car – an Audi A4 station wagon – they found nine migrants from Pakistan and Afghanistan crammed in the back.

They were reportedly trying to make their way through France to Calais, where they no doubt planned to join the thousands of people trying to smuggle themselves to the UK.

The driver of the car reportedly has a long criminal record, but this was the first time he was caught smuggling people.

He told police that he was simply working for “humanitarian purposes”. His passengers, however, claimed that he had told them he was a taxi driver and had charged them between €50 and €100.

The driver of the car was jailed in Nice, and risks a fine of up to €30,000 and up to five years in prison. The migrants, meanwhile, were taken back to the Italian side of the border.

People-smuggling has proved to be a money-earning option for some hard-up French people as migrants continue to flow through through the country on their way to northern Europe.

The Local reported in May how some business owners and even students in northern France have turned to the highly risky trade of trafficking migrants across the English Channel to the UK, just to make ends meet.

Some earn as much as €2,000 per person.
 

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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