Police clear migrant camp on France-Italy border

30th September 2015, Comments 0 comments

Italian police cleared a camp of migrants and activists from the border of France and Italy on Wednesday, with the occupants moving to rocks on the shoreline to avoid arrest and refusing to move.

The camp of around 50 people at Ventimiglia -- the town which became a flashpoint at the start of Europe's migrant crisis earlier this year -- was cleared because its occupants were using electricity and water without paying for it, a police spokesman said.

Some 30 migrants and 20 Italian activists, who had been warned ahead of the evacuation, moved to the coastal rocks before dawn to be well clear once police arrived, deputy police chief Giuseppe Maggese told AFP.

A cordon of about 30 policemen stood along the shoreline in front of the migrants, some of whom were threatening to jump into the sea, while others held up a banner in English reading: "We want freedom to cross the border."

"They have to move, I'm not sure at the moment where they'll be taken... but this situation could not go on. We understand why they are protesting but the camp was illegal," Ventimiglia mayor Enrico Ioculano told Italian media.

The camp holds up to 250 people depending on the day, according to local officials, who said a number of people had left on Tuesday after news of the impending evacuation broke.

Tents and personal belongings from the camp -- which sprawls under an overpass some 100 metres from the French border -- were being removed by garbage trucks.

Maggese said the police were trying to convince the migrants and activists to get off the rocks, adding "we are studying all options before intervening".

A similar eviction in June ended in clashes which left one police officer injured.

- 'Precarious situation' -

Police said a dozen migrants had been arrested early Wednesday, including a Bosnian wanted under an international arrest warrant.

The bishop of Ventimiglia, Suetta Antonio, was allowed through the cordon after requesting to speak to the protesters in the hope of urging them to abandon "their precarious situation", but failed to convince them to move.

Anne de Botton, a volunteer with the non-profit Doctors of the World (MdM) organisation, described the evacuated camp as "a rest camp before crossing the border, a transit camp where you never see the same people".

MdM had been carrying out rounds of the camp three times a week, and described it as highly organised.

A group of French activists hoping to cheer on the migrants in their protest were moved on by Italian police.

"The migrants want to jump into the sea, it's dangerous, not everyone can swim," said Teresa Maffeis, founder of the Democracy Association in Nice.

"It is abominable, these migrants are fleeing wars and come here seeking a better life. And this is Italy's answer."

Many who fled the camp sought shelter in a reception centre near the town's station run by the Italian Red Cross.

Ventimiglia has become a flashpoint in an increasingly bitter war of words between European countries over what to do with the thousands of migrants landing on their doorstep, fleeing war, poverty and persecution.

A crackdown on border controls in the area in June turned the town into a focus point for migrants protesting that they should be allowed to enter France on their way to their desired destinations in northern Europe.

The head of Italy's anti-immigrant Northern League party was quick to applaud the camp evacuation on Twitter, saying: "better late than never. Now we await (migrant) expulsions".

© 2015 AFP

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