Franco-Italian Dispute: No One Wants North African Refugees

In 1985, the countries of the European Union signed the Schengen Agreement, reached in a Luxembourg village of that name. The agreement effectively turns the European Union (minus the United Kingdom and Ireland who opted out of the treaty and plus non-EU members Norway and Iceland, who as Scandinavians adhered to it) into a Europe without internal borders.

Monument to Schengen Treaty
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Monument to Schengen Treaty

The influx of refugees from North Africa as a result of the political upheavals there, as well as opportunism by labor migrants, is threatening to unravel the Schengen agreement.

A dispute between Italy and France has broken out, as France turned its border with Italy back into a traditional border. Italy has served as the ingress point for North Africa because its proximity. When the island of Lampedusa, where Italy placed the refugees at first,  became choked with refugees, Italy was forced to relent and admit refugees to the Italian mainland.

Italy pleaded with European Union for assistance and for an equitable allotment of the refugee burden. The European Union replied that it could not coerce member states into sharing Italy’s pain.

The Italian riposte was to issue the refugees temporary residence permits that would allow them to travel. Since Europe does not have borders, refugees entering Italy can enter other countries in the Schengen Agreement area. This posed a threat primarily to France as approximately 80% of the refugees are coming from Tunisia and speak French.

Despite the great fanfare about Tunisia starting a ‘democracy revolution’, the refugees report that the situation there has become worse than it was before. The refugees naturally see France as the promised land, since France has a large Tunisian community and the refugees are Francophone.

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France has refused to accept them and has had its police escort the immigrants back to Italy. In the information war, France says now that it will accept the immigrants providing that they fulfill 5 conditions:

1) They have a valid residence document 2) Have a travel document recognized by the French authorities 3) The countries which have issued the documents have notified the European Commission 4) The foreigners have sufficient financial resources 5) They do not constitute a threat to public order.  The refugees from Italy fail on least 4 of the 5 counts.

Italian Interior Minister Roberto Maroni called upon France to drop its policy of escorting immigrants back to the frontier or else should suspend the Schengen treaty. “The conditions posed by the circular of the French Ministry of Interior are fulfilled by our residence permit”, he said.

The Italian minister then went on to suggest that the French government was operating out of political motivations and the desire to compete with the ant-immigrant National Front, adding “I understand that there are elections in 2012 but to flex muscles on this story is mistaken.”

The Italian press has accused French President Nicholas Sarkozy of launching a human bomb against Italy. It is equally bitter against the European Union that it claims “has married the French line” a reference to the excess influence that France is presumed to carry in Brussels.


Source material can be found at this site.

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