France threatens to send migrants back to Italy

18th April 2011, Comments 0 comments

France's interior minister said Monday that Tunisian migrants arriving from Italy would be sent back across the border if they were unable to show they have the financial resources to stay.

Claude Gueant referred to the rules of the Schengen Accords, the treaty under which core EU members agreed to allow residents to travel without passports within their borders, when discussing the spat with Rome over the influx of migrants.

Italy has moved to grant temporary residence permits to more than 20,000 migrants, who have been arriving on Italian shores since January's popular revolt in Tunisia.

The government in Rome says the permits allow the mainly French-speaking migrants to travel to France where many of them have friends and relatives, to the irritation of Paris.

On Sunday French authorities blocked trains coming from the Italian border town of Ventimiglia to block a pro-immigrant protest.

Gueant insisted Paris had respected "in letter and spirit" the Schengen Accords, and said 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.

The minister also defended the decision to block trains from Ventimiglia, citing the risk of public disorder.

"A public order problem was possible and the simplest way of dealing with it was to stop the train coming in," he explained.

Gueant insisted that Paris wanted to avoid a rift with Rome.

Asked by AFP about tensions between the two countries, Gueant said: "France does not want that at all."

Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said in an interview Monday that despite their different handling of the Tunisian immigrants, the two governments would "work together" to clear the cloud hanging over relations.

© 2011 AFP

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