France may temporarily suspend open border system

22nd April 2011, Comments 0 comments

France may temporarily suspend Europe's visa-free Schengen border agreement due to an influx of migrants from Tunisia and Libya, the presidential office said on Friday.

France has accused Italy of abusing the Schengen pact by issuing temporary residence permits and travel documents to the migrants knowing that the French-speaking Tunisians are headed for France.

More than 20,000 Tunisian migrants have arrived on Italian shores from Tunisia, complaining that a January revolution that toppled president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali has failed to bring economic progress to their homeland.

Italy has given them residence permits for six months.

France has close ties to Tunisia, one of its former North African colonies, and many would-be migrants have friends and relatives in French cities.

On Sunday, in response to a protest by activists who support the Tunisians, French officials blocked all trains from Italy for the day -- drawing a sharp response from Rome, which alleged EU law was broken.

But French Interior Minister Claude Gueant insisted Paris had respected "in letter and spirit" the Schengen Agreement, the treaty under which core European states agreed to allow residents to travel without passports within their borders.

However, as the first country of arrival, Italy was responsible for managing the migrants, who must show they have the financial resources to stay in the second country.

In the absence of such resources, "we will return these people to Italy," said Gueant.

© 2011 AFP

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