(Paris) French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin announced that he would go to Rome on Monday to deliver a message of “firmness” in the face of illegal crossings of the Mediterranean, after the influx of migrants on the Italian island of Lampedusa last week.
Mr. Darmanin is due to meet his Italian counterpart, Matteo Piantedosi, early in the evening, after an expected arrival around 7:30 p.m. in the Italian capital, according to his entourage.
“At the request of the president (Emmanuel Macron) I am going to Rome this afternoon,” he declared on Europe1/Cnews media on Monday, explaining that France wanted in particular to “help Italy hold its border” exterior, the first gateway to Europe from North Africa.
Between last Monday and Wednesday, around 8,500 people, more than the entire population of Lampedusa, arrived aboard 199 boats, according to the United Nations migration agency.
This situation has put the island’s reception capacities under great strain, generated a political shock wave in Italy and relaunched the thorny question of European solidarity in terms of reception and distribution of asylum seekers, for support countries on the front line of these arrivals.
“There cannot be a message given to people who come to our (European) soil that they will be welcomed whatever happens,” however, underlined Gérald Darmanin, who wants to send a message of “firmness” to Rome.
“We must apply European rules,” he added: people persecuted “for political reasons, obviously, they are refugees.” “And in this case, France (…) can welcome these people.”
But in “60%” of cases, they “come from countries like Ivory Coast, Guinea, Gambia”, where “there is no humanitarian question”.
“Protect the borders”
“What we want to say to our Italian friends, who I believe are in complete agreement with us, (is) that we must protect the external borders of the European Union and above all immediately look at asylum requests and, when they are not eligible, send them back to their country,” he said.
A message of appeasement aimed at the right-wing and far-right Italian government, whose leader Giorgia Meloni criticized her European partners on Sunday for lacking solidarity with Italy, which has welcomed nearly 130,000 people onto its territory since the start of the year, almost double compared to 2022 over the same period.
“Enough talking, Italians expect and deserve concrete actions from France and Europe,” the League, a far-right party and member of the government coalition, retorted on Monday.
Gérald Darmanin must go to Rome, but not to Lampedusa, as did the President of the European Commission Ursula Von der Leyen who presented an emergency plan there on Sunday.
This ten-point aid plan, intended to manage the emergency of migratory flows towards Italy, plans to better distribute asylum seekers between European countries or even to facilitate returns.
It is supposed to combine firmness against smugglers and facilitation of legal channels of entry into the European area for candidates for exile eligible for asylum.
In the short and medium term, the President of the European Commission estimated on Sunday, the European partners of Italy, the first country of entry into the EU on this migratory route, must take their part.
“Irregular immigration is a European challenge that needs a European response,” she insisted.
The central Mediterranean, which connects North Africa – notably Libya and Tunisia – to Europe, is the most dangerous maritime migration route in the world: more than 2,000 migrants have died attempting this crossing since the start of the year, according to the International Organization for Migration.