French customs check across border irks Italy

The Italian Foreign Ministry summoned France's ambassador on Saturday, after uniformed French customs officers crossed the border in the Alps to confront a man suspected of carrying drugs.

French customs check across border irks Italy
A file photo of a train at Bardonecchia station. Photo: AFP

France insisted that the presence of its personnel at a railway station just inside Italy was acceptable.

However French ambassador Christian Masset was summoned over what Rome termed “a serious act considered outside the scope of cooperation between states sharing a border.”

The foreign ministry added that the EU neighbours would address the issue further at a meeting in the northern city of Turin on April 16th.

The Rainbow4Africa NGO, which has for months occupied part of the train station in the alpine village of Bardonecchia to aid migrants headed for France, filed a complaint after the French officials turned up there late Friday and told a Nigerian man to provide a urine sample.

Italian officials reacted with outrage, prompting an official explanatory statement from the French embassy.

Gerald Darmanin, the French minister charged with overseeing customs, signed the statement which explained how French officials came to be present when the Paris-bound train arrived from Milan.

“These uniformed agents identified as French customs officials suspected one passenger, a Nigerian national resident in Italy, of having drugs on his person.

“In line with article 60 bis of the customs code the agents asked the person if he would consent to providing a urine sample to detect drugs which he agreed to do in writing,” the statement read.

“In order to carry out the test in conditions respecting the person, the agents waited until the train arrived to use the facility at Bardonecchia station which was placed at the disposal of French customs,” the statement went on, saying the procedure respected current guidelines laid down in 1990.

The French officials duly carried out the test which came back negative.

But the Italian foreign ministry said France had failed to keep them fully abreast of developments, leaving Rome to slam the incident as “unacceptable.”

Matteo Salvini, the head of Italy's far-right League, commented that Rome, “instead of expelling Russian diplomats should remove French diplomats,” juxtaposing the incident with the furore over the recent poisoning of a former Russian spy in Britain, widely blamed on Moscow.

READ ALSO: Migrant electrocuted on top of train from Italy to France


‘Sushi smugglers’: Why food deliveries in this Swiss-Italian border town are causing havoc

Authorities in a small Ticino town are at a loss on how to stop customers in Switzerland from ordering sushi from nearby restaurants in Italy.

'Sushi smugglers': Why food deliveries in this Swiss-Italian border town are causing havoc
This photo shows Swiss customers waiting at the border for sushi delivery from Italy. Photo by Commune di Monteggio

Good sushi is expensive in Ticino, but with borders closed, a trip to Italy for lunch is not really on the menu.

As a result, local residents order the dish online from the nearby Italian town of Ponte Tresa and have it delivered at the border.

While delivery drivers are not allowed to cross into Switzerland to make the delivery, they wait on the border to hand the orders over. 

The ensuing congestion at the border creates “a dangerous, unacceptable and intolerable situation” particularly on weekends, according to Piero Marchesi, mayor of Monteggio, a Swiss municipality located on the border.

In an interview with Ticino Online, Marchesi spoke of “rudeness, chaos of traffic, gatherings and illegal parking” as Swiss customers wait to pick up their orders from Italy. 




“We ask the cantonal and municipal police to coordinate with the border guards to find a solution. I can't go there to direct traffic”, he said.

The customs of Ponte Cremenaga, Fornasette and Ponte Tresa have become a meeting point for customers picking up their food orders from Italy.

In response to Marchesi’s complaints, the Federal Customs Administration (AFD) confirmed that “the border areas, for various reasons related to safety and traffic aspects, are not suitable to be used for exchange of goods”.




For his part, Norman Gobbi, president of the canton’s Council of State said that “there are several services that offer sushi in the Ticino area”.

Meanwhile, Ticino officials asked Bern to introduce border restrictions to limit non-essential traffic to and from Italy, a request that has not yet been answered by federal authorities.

READ MORE: Why are cross-border workers exempted from Switzerland’s new travel restrictions?