France to support Italy in 'securing its border' against illegal migrants

France  Cecilia Fabiano  AP
SEP 19, 2023 LISTEN
© Cecilia Fabiano / AP

French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin visited Rome on Monday to discuss migration, after a week of mass arrivals on the Italian island of Lampedusa forced a European-wide response.

France wants to "help Italy to secure its borders" as one of the European Union's main countries of arrival for migrants crossing from North Africa, Darmanin told broadcaster Europe1 when he announced the trip.

Some 8,500 people arrived on the Italian island of Lampedusa, between Tunisia and Sicily, on 199 boats between Monday and Wednesday last week, according to figures released by the United Nations' International Organization for Migration (IOM).

The situation forced European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen to travel there Sunday to announce an emergency action plan.

The French position?
The mass movement has stoked heated debate in France, where political parties in the country's hung parliament are wrangling over a draft law governing new arrivals.

"There cannot be the message to people arriving on our (European) shores that they will be welcomed whatever happens," Darmanin said.

"We have to apply European rules" on receiving people and distributing them among EU member states, he added, after Germany suspended transfers of migrants from Italy over alleged breaches by Rome.

“We all have to do our part,” to welcome the thousands of migrants who arrived this week on the Italian island of Lampedusa, left-wing leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon said on Sunday on French broadcaster BFMTV.

France is "capable of welcoming 250 people from Lampedusa and we are asking others to do the same," he added, as "most European countries need immigration."

Marine Le Pen, president of the National Rally (RN) group in the National Assembly, speaking on TF1, called for the erection of “a legal wall” against immigration, arguing that nations should decide who enters in their country, and not the European Union.

Migrants versus refugees
Darmanin pointed out that the heart of the issue is illegal migration.

"If there are asylum seekers eligible for asylum, who are persecuted for political reasons, of course they are refugees. And in those cases, France, as it has always done, can welcome those people," Darmanin said.

However "60 percent" of arrivals "come from countries like Ivory Coast, Guinea or The Gambia that have no obvious humitarian issues, he added.

"We have to protect the EU's external borders and, above all, look into asylum requests immediately, and send people back to their country when they're not eligible," he said.

French MPs are set to debate a new anti-immigration bill in the autumn.

France is also expected to face a call from Pope Francis for greater tolerance towards migrants later this week during a high-profile visit to Mediterranean city Marseille.

 (with AFP)