European Union raps France over immigration 'Non'
European Union immigration commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem warned France Friday it is on a collision course with the law by returning Tunisian migrants to Italy.
"The French authorities cannot send them back to Italy," Cecilia Malmstroem said, as a row grows over how a treaty governing frontier management throughout the borderless Schengen area on mainland Europe is implemented.
The emergence of the spat came as Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi threatened to "grant temporary permits" to migrants saying they wanted to join family in France, Germany and other EU nations.
The papers "would allow them to circulate freely in Europe," Berlusconi underlined of a move his government says is designed to "put pressure" on partners in the face of "an utter refusal to collaborate."
Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini complained this week that France was failing to show solidarity with Rome, the first port of call for an outpouring of some 20,000 migrants, most of them Tunisians, amid unrest in Arab north Africa.
The issue revolves around what Paris calls "episodic" controls at the invisible border, whereas Malmstroem says the Schengen treaty "forbids" systematic controls that resemble those at the old physical frontiers.
Likewise, Brussels complains that emergency powers allowing the restoration of temporary borders can only be implemented when permission is sought of the commission.
The problem is compounded by the existence, since 2000, of an agreement between France and Italy that the former can return migrants without rights from third-party states.
"France could evoke a serious threat to public order, but this is not the case here," Malmstroem nevertheless said.
Scores of Tunisian immigrants arrive every day in the town of Ventimiglia, the last in Italy before the French border, only to be turned back when they cross the invisible frontier.
Typically they have landed in the south of Italy on makeshift boats, often on the tiny island of Lampedusa, before being transferred to reception centres on the mainland.
From there they travel by train to Ventimiglia hoping to enter France where many have relatives.
Rome frequently accuses EU partners of abandoning it in its battle against clandestine immigration.
The issue of immigration from Tunisia and surrounding countries will be tackled by EU interior ministers on April 11.
© 2011 AFP