Italy hits back at Merkel in migrants row

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Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni has dismissed criticism from France and Germany over Italy's of migrants. Photo: John Thys/AFP
11:49 CEST+02:00
Italy's Foreign Minister has scathingly dismissed criticism from France and Germany over its handling of the tens of thousands of migrants arriving on its southern shores.

"Italy is doing what it has to do ... and even much more by saving thousands of lives and by taking in refugees," Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni said in an interview published in Wednesday's Corriere della Sera, describing his country as a "a positive model on the international stage."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, at talks with French President Francois Hollande, on Monday publicly rebuked Italy and Greece over the pace of progress in establishing registration centres for newly-arrived migrants, warning it would be intolerable if the centres, approved at an EU summit in June, were not operational by the end of the year.

Merkel and Hollande's remarks have embarrassed a government which has struggled to cope with the arrival of some 280,000 migrants on its territory since the start of last year, most of them rescued from the Mediterranean by Italy's coastguard or navy.

"Asking Greece and Italy to do their duty on immigration is like asking a country hit by floods to step up the production of umbrellas," Gentiloni said.

"Europe needs to go in exactly the opposite direction from attacking the countries situated on its external borders."

The minister said the crisis could only be resolved by a Europe-wide approach.

"That may seem ambitious but ... it is the only way possible. The migrants are coming to Europe, not to Italy, Greece, Germany or Hungary. The way things are going, there is a risk of (open borders accord) Schengen being called into question and having to go back to the old frontiers."

At the heart of the row are EU rules that require asylum-seekers to apply for refugee status in the country they first land in.

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In practice, it is where individuals are first registered that counts and the northern Europeans accuse the Italians and Greeks of being deliberately lax in formally identifying migrants arriving by sea, allowing the bulk of them to quicly pass through their territory to lodge their asylum applications elsewhere.

Italy and Greece respond that it is not feasible or reasonable for them to take in hundreds of thousands of refugees who have no desire to remain in their countries.

Gentiloni told Corriere that the rules had to be revised before the proposed EU reception centres could be established.

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