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IMMIGRATION

Italy may be sanctioned for migrant ID failure

Italy may face EU sanctions for failing to identify and register thousands of migrants who have arrived on its shores in recent months.

Italy may be sanctioned for migrant ID failure
4,600 migrants were rescued between Friday and Monday. Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP

Italy, Greece, Croatia and Malta might be sanctioned for flouting criteria laid down in the Dublin Convention, which stipulates that the EU state where an asylum seeker first enters is responsible for taking fingerprints and registering asylum applications, Rai News reported, citing diplomatic sources in Brussels.

A deal agreed among EU states in September to relocate refugees across Europe was dependent on countries including Italy and Greece, which have borne the brunt of arrivals by sea, setting up “hotspots” to swiftly process asylum requests.

But the bitterly contested plan has ground to a halt, with less than 150 reportedly leaving Italy over the past couple of months.

Some 80 refugees were supposed to leave the country each day as part of a plan that would see 40,000 relocated over two years.

The Sicilian port town of Pozzallo became the first official “hotspot” at the end of November, with new arrivals obliged to provide their fingerprints, or be taken to a detention centre to await expulsion from Italy.

One of the issues for Italy has been migrants’ refusal to go through the identification process.

“They don't want to be here, otherwise they would have to stay in our country under the accords,” Interior Minister Angelino Alfano said during a TV interview in June.

Of the 122,000 migrants who arrived in Italy between January and September, only 80,000 agreed to be identified, according to figures from the Italian police.

The Dublin regulation also forces migrants to stay in the country where they submitted their application while it is being processed – which, in Italy especially, can take months, or even years.

Some 4,600 boat migrants were rescued by the Italian coastguard off the coast of Libya over the weekend.  

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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