France’s top administrative court has ruled that border controls on the French/Italian border do not violate the Schengen agreement, confirming the country can stop migrants entering through Italy. The migrants, predominantly Africans, have become a source of tension between the two countries.
According to The Local, the court has dismissed a petition lodged by three organisations on behalf of a group of migrants who have been camped out at the border since mid-June. Between 150 and 200 people, mostly from Africa, are currently camped out on seaside rocks and under a bridge by the Italian border post of Ventimiglia, where French border police have been preventing them from crossing into France.
The court has declared that, contrary to the case lodged by their benefactors, France is not breaking the Schengen agreement by refusing to give the migrants free passage, as they are not EU passport holders. A statement released by the State Council reads: “The suppression of systematic interior border controls in the Schengen area does not prevent French authorities from carrying out identity controls.”
It added that such controls did not “exceed the legal framework, be it by their magnitude, frequency or implementation,” and that therefore “These controls are thus not equivalent to the implementation of a permanent and systematic control at the French-Italian border.”
Earlier this month, the French President, Francoise Hollande, said that the borders had not been closed, which would have been contrary to the Schengen agreement, which grants freedom of movement anywhere within the Schengen area of 26 participating countries.
However, he added that France was carrying out strict border controls to ensure that migrants flowing across the Mediterranean and through Italy did not cross into French territory. Those controls are in line with the Dublin agreement, which states that migrants seeking asylum in the EU must do so in the first country they arrive in.
“We are applying the rules,” Hollande insisted.
Figures released by the European statistics agency Eurostat earlier this month revealed that 184,815 migrants had appealed for asylum across the EU in the first quarter of 2015 alone. Although some are using land routes through Turkey and the Balkans, many more are paying people smugglers vast sums of money for passage across the Mediterranean on dilapidated boats, landing predominantly on Greek and Italian shores.
Yet between the two countries between them registered fewer than 18,000 asylum seeker applications between them, revealing the scale of movement through those countries and on into the wider EU. Italy actually registered 28 percent fewer applications in the first quarter of 2015 than it did in the last quarter of 2014, despite overall numbers being on the rise. In the same period, January – March 2015, Germany registered 73,120 asylum applications.
Ukip’s Gerard Batten MEP said: “Italy and Greece appear to be acting simply as a gateway to more attractive parts of Europe, including Britain.
“The only way to tackle this flood is to stop them at the EU’s borders. If they are allowed to cross into Europe it will serve to encourage many more to come.”