Chaos in Como after Swiss send back refugees

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More than 100 migrants are camping out at Como station after being pushed back from the Swiss border. Photo: Muszka/GoogleMaps
11:35 CEST+02:00
Around 100 refugees are reported to be camping out around Como’s San Giovanni station after being turned back by Swiss border guards.

Makeshift camps are springing up around the station in the northern Italian city to house hundreds of migrants who were sent back from Switzerland after attempting to enter the country illegally at the border crossing at Chiasso, in the canton of Ticino.

The backlog is turning Como into “an open-air refugee centre”, local politician Nicola Molteni told Milan newspaper Il Giorno.

And the blame is being placed squarely on Switzerland.

“Until last week an agreement with Switzerland allowed 100 migrants to cross into Chiasso every 15 days,” Alberto Sinigallia, president of Arca, a group which manages local refugee centres, told La Repubblica.

“That has been suspended for the time being, but it was an important release valve that helped us manage migrant flows,” he added.

Contacted by The Local, Walter Pavel of the Swiss border agency (EZV), could not confirm that any such agreement existed and said Switzerland was simply following the rules.

A migrant who wishes to seek asylum in Switzerland must present themselves at the border and request asylum.

If they do not – because they want to pass through Switzerland and request asylum in another country – they are not considered to have refugee status and are sent back to Italy.

“The number of migrants who submit an application for asylum at the border in Ticino with the Border Guard has decreased in the past few weeks,” Pavel told The Local.

“Migrants who wish to merely pass through (transit) Switzerland will be sent back by the Swiss Border Guard according to the readmission agreement with Italy.”

The number of illegal immigrants coming through the Ticino border crossing has increased with the recent warmer weather.

At the beginning of July Switzerland caught  a record 1,300 migrants attempting to cross from Italy into Switzerland in one week alone. One Eritrean hopeful even made headlines after being filmed attempting to make it over the border crammed inside a suitcase.

And on Tuesday border guards caught 60 migrants without papers on a train in the Swiss city of Bellinzona. They were subsequently sent back to the border.

Of the 1,300 that arrived in the first week of July, 996 were sent back.

Switzerland’s rigidity in sticking to the rules is creating “A real emergency situation which risks paralyzing Como’s security system,” Como police chief Ernesto Molteni is quoted as saying by Swiss paper 24 Heures.

The camping migrants are being provided with meals and aid from the Catholic aid agency, Caritas. But with aid agencies already stretched to the limit experts say they will struggle to manage if the camp continues to grow.

“We’re providing food, clothes and trying to set up some showers for them,” said Caritas director Roberto Bernasconi, “But it’s very difficult, we’re already working to help the 2,000 migrants who are housed in Como’s refugee centers,” he added.

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“The situation around the station is disgraceful,” said Lombardy governor, Roberto Calderoli, from Italy’s right-wing Northern League Party.

“Como is becoming the new Calais.” 

But Ticino’s police chief hit back at the criticism.

“We register a big proportion of migrants who arrive in our centres, though they should have already been registered in Italy,” he told 24 Heures. “We are doing our bit.”

Under the Dublin rules of the Schengen agreement, immigrants must be registered in the country they first arrive in within the Schengen zone.

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