Italy: thank us for refugee help - don't sue

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Migrants at the port of Lampedusa, where a "hotspot" has been established. Alberto Pizzoli/AFP
14:50 CET+01:00
Italy is being sued by the EU for not doing enough to identify migrants arriving on its shores. But now the country has hit back hard, saying Europe should show it some gratitude.

The Europen Commission is set on opening proceedings against Italy, Greece, Malta and Croatia for violating regulations on taking fingerprints from migrants entering their shores, Rai News reported, citing diplomatic sources in Brussels.

But Mario Morcone, the head of the immigration department at Italy’s interior ministry, told The Local on Wednesday that the data on which the EC is basing the potential sanctions against Italy over its handling of asylum seekers is out of date.

"It needs to be clarified," he said, adding that since the beginning of January, Italy had formally identified 80 percent of asylum seekers.

“Italy has saved over 200,000 migrants from the sea over the past couple of years. We have done a lot and for this, we are very proud.”

Interior Minister Angelino Alfano said on Wednesday that it would be “unreasonable” for the commission to open the proceedings.

“For the work we’ve done, the only thing we deserve from the EU is a thank you,” he was quoted by Ansa as saying.

Morcone said in late September that the collection of fingerprints would be stepped up at refugee centres, or so-called “hotspots”, that were to be jointly run by European officials and local police.

A bitterly contested deal agreed by EU member states that month on relocating migrants across Europe from countries that have borne most of the burden, such as Italy and Greece, was dependent on asylum requests being swiftly processed.

But just one such centre has opened so far on Lampedusa, an island off Sicily which has been a focal point of arrival for migrants crossing from North Africa.

“We plan to open others but they’re still going through the political processes,” Morcone said.

Of the nearly 860,000 migrants to land in Europe so far this year, over 130,000 have arrived in Italy.

Some 4,600 people were rescued off the coast of Libya last weekend after a break in bad weather sparked fresh attempts at the perilous crossing. Over 3,500 have died trying to make the crossing this year.

In the past, Italy had failed to formally identify thousands of refugees, mostly because they refused to be fingerprinted in order to bypass the Dublin regulation, which forces refugees to stay in the country where they first submitted their asylum request.

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.

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Morcone said Italy still struggles to get migrants to go through the identification process.

“Some Syrians refuse, but it’s mostly Eritreans,” he added.

“We’re now trying to educate them to see that it’s important that they be identified and that their movement within Europe is dependent on it.”

Meanwhile, the EU refugee relocation plan agreed in September has lagged. Some 80 refugees were supposed to leave Italy each day as part of a plan that would see 40,000 relocated over two years, but less than 150 have reportedly left over the past few months.

Although nine EU countries had volunteered to take in 854 people from Italy, Morcone said that the country had only received offers for about 350.

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