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'European response on migrants lacking'

Maroni to press EU on three fronts

16 March, 17:12
'European response on migrants lacking' (ANSA) - Rome, March 16 - The European Union's response to a migrant wave from North Africa has been disappointing, Interior Minister Roberto Maroni said Wednesday, adding that over 11,000 Tunisian migrants had arrived since the start of 2011.

"We have asked for intervention from the European Union but it has so far been unsatisfactory," Maroni told the House, saying that Italy wanted the EU to share the burden of receiving migrants, sifting asylum requests and repatriation. This system, he said, "must be developed by the EU and the burden cannot be left on border countries alone". Second, Italy wanted the EU's border agency Frontex to be boosted, saying that at present it only coordinated action while leaving up to individual states and in particular Italy "the many burdens and few honours of controlling the Mediterranean".

Third, he said, Italy wanted "an extraordinary contribution of 100 million euros to go towards the huge expenses we are facing".

Maroni said he would reiterate these three requests to European Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom in Brussels Thursday.

Since the start of the unrest in North Africa, Maroni said, 11,200 migrants had arrived in Italy, all from Tunisia, and "I fear we are just at the start".

He recalled that, thanks to an accord with Libya, total arrivals in 2010 were just 4,000.

"Tunisia is the most significant front but there are also Libya and Egypt.

"We are working on these three fronts with (Foreign) Minister (Franco) Frattini to stop these clandestine flows.

So far negotiations with Tunisia had not brought any appreciable results, but talks were continuing and Maroni said he was "confident that shortly we will reach a solution".

Italy last month offered to help Tunisia patrol its coasts but was rebuffed.

The immigrant centre on the island of Lampedusa, closer to Africa than to Sicily, is again overflowing and the pace at which migrants are being redistributed to other southern Italian sites has slowed.

The United Nations refuge agency UNHCR on Wednesday said the situation on Lampedusa was becoming critical and urged the government to move migrants out faster.