No migrant ‘invasion’: Italy’s new interior minister

Italy's new Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese said in an interview published Friday that there was no migrant "invasion", countering statements by her hardline anti-immigration predecessor Matteo Salvini.

No migrant 'invasion': Italy's new interior minister

Lamorgese told the Repubblica newspaper that this year 9,600 migrants and asylum-seekers had arrived in Italy, compared with 22,000 in 2018. 

Her comments were followed later Friday by an Interior Ministry announcement that of 88 migrants rescued by the German charity Sea-Eye's Alan Kurdi ship on October 26, “Germany and France will welcome 60, Portugal 5 and Ireland two”.

They would be allowed to disembark in the port of Taranto in Puglia in southern Italy, the ministry added. Repubblica questioned Lamorgese — a 66-year-old former civil servant who has no political affiliation — after Salvini spoke of a “tripling” of migrant landings in Italy and called for the “invasion” to stop.

“I do not have such information. We are not facing any invasion,” said Lamorgese, who took up her role in September after the formation of the new coalition government between the Five Star Movement (M5S) and the centre-left Democratic Party (PD).

She said the only increase in arrivals occurred in September.

Lamorgese also dismissed Salvini's comments that Rome would authorise the return to Italy of migrants in Germany on chartered flights.

“Nothing has been decided,” she said. Under the EU's Dublin Regulation — which states that migrants should be sent back to the country they first arrived in if their asylum request is denied — the former government between Salvini's far-right League and M5S, had agreed that more than 2,300 migrants be repatriated to Italy.

She said for this year, 1,351 “Dubliners” would be sent back to Italy. Lamorgese highlighted the arrival in Sicily this week of about 100 migrants rescued in the Mediterranean after France and Germany agreed to host many of them.

France, Germany, Italy and Malta reached a deal in September to try to avoid ships carrying migrants being held up for weeks while countries decided their fate on a case-by-case basis. On the controversial 2017 agreement between Italy and Libya to block migrants leaving the coast of the North African country, Lamorgese said the deal could be improved.

She said Rome's plan was to “further support assisted voluntary repatriations” led by the UN refugee agency and the International Office for Migration.

The process has allowed 25,000 migrants to return to their countries, Lamorgese said, adding that it was necessary to “empty” Libya's detention centres, which have been criticised for abuses.

She said Italy has also sped up the repatriation process for migrants who are not entitled to asylum.

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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.