Rome, Jun 14 – Italy threatened Sunday to turn to a Plan B to deal with migrants which “would hurt Europe” if the country is not given greater help with the crisis, as Austria and France expelled asylum seekers back onto Italian soil.
The country is struggling to accommodate an endless wave of boat migrants, and a crackdown on security at the French and Austrian borders over the past few days has exacerbated the situation, causing a bottleneck at Italy’s train stations.
The crisis “should not be underestimated”, Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said in an interview published in the Corriere della Sera daily.
“It is a serious issue and, let me be clear, Europe’s answers so far have not been good enough,” he added.
The EU is having difficulty achieving consensus for its proposed migrant distribution plan — under which 24,000 refugees would be taken in by other countries — but Italy is hoping an EU summit on June 25-26 will go even further.
“Redistributing just 24,000 people is almost a provocation,” Renzi said.
“If Europe chooses solidarity, good. If it doesn’t, we have Plan B ready. But it would first and foremost hurt Europe,” he said, without providing details.
The premier has come under pressure to take a stronger stance with the 28-member bloc, with the anti-establishment Five Star movement suggesting Italy threaten to freeze its EU budget contributions if aid is not forthcoming.
Over 57,000 migrants and asylum seekers have been rescued at sea and brought to Italy so far this year — up from 54,000 at the same time last year — Renzi said, and Rome wants other countries to shoulder part of the burden.
It also wants the EU to share the cost of quickly repatriating would-be economic migrants, who currently make up around 60 percent of those arriving by boat.
Renzi will raise the issue with his British and French counterparts when they travel to Milan this week, and he said he would also speak to European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
– ‘Europe’s responsibility’ –
Under the Dublin convention, refugees must apply for asylum in the first country of entry to Europe — a rule which Italy says is unfair as it leaves Rome to deal with the thousands of migrants washing up on its shores.
Greece has also long complained of being left with the same problem.
The Schengen open borders accord has until now meant those landing in Italy can usually easily travel through neighbouring France, Austria, Switzerland and Slovenia as they seek to make it to Britain, Germany and Scandinavia.
But border controls have been temporarily reintroduced because of the G7 summit in Germany a week ago, sparking migrant protests at the frontier with France where French police have refused entry to people hoping to head to northern Europe.
Some of the men, women and children from Somalia, Eritrea, the Ivory Coast and Sudan said they had initially made it across the border into France by train, but been arrested and escorted back across the frontier by police.
Austrian police also announced Sunday they would be returning to Italy 24 African migrants arrested while trying to get to Germany by train.
The closure of the borders has increased pressure on Italy’s already overcrowded reception facilities, with hundreds of people sleeping rough among the tourists and travellers in the main train stations in Rome and Milan.
As television images showed yet more fresh arrivals disembarking on Italian soil, authorities in Milan rushed to convert a warehouse into a centre, while in Rome the civil protection agency set up a temporary tent camp to provide shelter.
The Dublin convention “should be changed,” Renzi said, insisting the current chaos in Libya — from where many of the boats depart — is “Europe’s responsibility in light of the (military) intervention four years ago” by NATO to help rebels unseat dictator Moamer Kadhafi.