Italian Interior Minister Angelino Alfano described a move by France to keep illegal migrants trapped in Italy and out of France as a “slap in the face” this week, while the nation’s Prime Minister hinted at the possibility of providing the migrants with temporary residence passes that would allow them to legally enter the rest of the European Union, stating Italy was considering some form of “Plan B.”
The remarks follow a new initiative by the French government to check passports at border crossings between France and Italy. The French government has, thus, stopped at least 200 illegal migrants from leaving Italy and entering France. The move is highly uncommon in the European Union, in which the borders of European nations are expected to remain mostly open.
Interior Minister Angelino Alfano called the move a “slap in the face,” particularly given the number of migrants who have flooded Italy from Africa this year alone. It is believed that, in the past year, Italy has taken in 170,000 migrants illegally, most sailing out of Libya across the Mediterranean Sea. In 2015, 57,000 have made it to Italy. French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve has responded to the insult by stating that France is in its right to check passports, and “when migrants cross borders and it is established that they arrived in Italy, then it is only normal that they return to Italy.”
France is legally allowed to check passports at the border by the EU, but only in cases of heightened national security risk, which the French government is claiming is the case. The move follows the breakdown of EU talks, where a proposal to issue quotas to each EU nation of migrants they would need to take in based on economy and population were soundly rejected. Italy has responded to the lack of a conclusive solution to the problem by insisting that the aid of other EU nations is pivotal to keeping Italy afloat, and that “we are working to avoid the political bankruptcy of Europe.” (Avoiding the economic bankruptcy of Europe is a job for Greece and the IMF, presumably.)
Prime Minister Matteo Renzi stated that his nation was considering implementing a “Plan B” to solve the crisis, adding that such a plan would “hurt” Europe. The remark has triggered much speculation, with the UK’s Independent suggesting that “one option would be for asylum seekers in Italy to receive three-month residence passes that would allow them to travel around most of the EU, enabling them to head towards northern Europe.” The EU requires that migrants all be processed in the country in which they arrive, but giving them all residence passes would conform to that requirement while allowing them to pass through the French barricades and any other borders they may encounter all the way to the UK.
The Independent article notes that the influx of migrants has created a small economy for short-distance migrant smugglers, who have been accepting 70 euros a person to simply drive the migrants across the border into France. As they are accompanied by Italian nationals, they face little resistance from authorities.