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Italy, France agree migrant patrols, but spat rumbles on

Maroni satisfied after meeting, having called French 'hostile'

08 April, 14:59
Italy, France agree migrant patrols, but spat rumbles on (ANSA) - Rome, April 8 - Tensions between Italy and France eased on Friday when their interior ministers met here although a high-voltage spat over Italy's migrant crisis looked far from resolved.

The neighbours agreed to operate joint patrols of waters in the Mediterranean in a bid to stop a flood of mostly Tunisian migrants landing on Italy's shores following unrest in North Africa.

But big differences remained over what to do with some 26,000 migrants to have arrived in Italy this year, with the Italian government demanding France stop blocking those who want to cross the common border from doing so and the French insisting they have the right to turn the non-EU citizens back.

''I'm satisfied with today's meeting,'' said Italian Interior Minister Roberto Maroni, who on Thursday accused France of adopting a ''hostile attitude'', after talks with his Gallic counterpart Claude Gueant.

''From a crisis, it's possible to create a strong, common, joint initiative like the one we decided on today to give a concrete response to the problems Italy and France are facing over migration.

''These are problems we want to resolve with Europe as part of a solidarity (effort) that we aim to stimulate and reinforce,'' added Maroni, who has accused the EU of leaving Italy to handle the migrant crisis on its own.

Tensions simmering for weeks boiled over on Thursday, when Italy approved a decree to issue many of the migrants with temporary permits.

The move was designed to stop France turning back migrants, despite the Schengen Agreement that abolished border controls in much of mainland Europe, on the grounds that they did not have any papers.

But the French government countered the move with an interior ministry order telling border officials to make sure migrants from third countries complied with a series of conditions for entry in addition to the possession of residence permits.

These included a ''valid travel document recognized by France'' and proof of having ''sufficient (economic) resources'' and the officials also had to be satisfied ''their presence does not represent a threat to public order''.

Neither side showed any signs of backing down on Friday and the dispute may now be taken to the European Union level, with a meeting of European interior ministers chaired by Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom set to take place in Brussels Monday.

''The rules of the Schengen Agreement and bilateral treaties between Italy and France should be applied to the issue that caused the controversy,'' said Maroni, who argued on Thursday that France had to accept the migrants or leave Schengen altogether. Gueant continued to disagree: ''As regards the temporary residence permits, we'll act in compliance with Schengen but also with Article Five, which says migrants must have documents and (sufficient) economic resources (to enter)''. A European Commission spokesman said Friday there were grey areas concerning the application of the Schengen Agreement, while stressing the possession of a residence permit does not guarantee a migrant the right to travel throughout the Schengen area. photo: migrants in southern Italy.