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Italy at odds with EU partners over migration

11 april 2011, 16:09
Italy's interior minister urged European neighbours Monday to help his country cope with an influx of migrants from north Africa, but Germany said it was up to Rome to take action, AFP reports.

"Today we will see if Europe can be united and show solidarity, or if it is merely a geographic space," Italian Interior Minister Roberto Maroni said as he arrived for talks with European Union counterparts in Luxembourg.

Italy has urged its European Union neighbours to help it cope with a "human tsunami" that has overwhelmed the tiny island of Lampedusa since revolutions erupted in Tunisia and Libya earlier this year.

Rome sparked a diplomatic row last week when it announced it would grant six-month residency permits to more than 20,000 Tunisian migrants, which would allow them to travel freely in Europe's border-free Schengen area, AFP reports.

Officials issued the first permits on Sunday despite French and German objections, with Berlin calling the move "a blow to the spirit of Schengen", a 25-nation visa-free zone.

France tightened the control of documents at the border with Italy.

German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich said his country could also reinforce its borders, although there has been no increase in the flow of migrants so far.

Friedrich told reporters in Luxembourg that it was up to Italy to deal with the wave of migration and find a solution with Tunisian authorities to stop people from reaching Europe's shores.

"We cannot accept numerous economic migrants arriving in Europe through Italy. This is why we expect Italy to respect the existing legal rules and uphold its duty in discussions with the Tunisians, Friedrich said.

Around 26,000 undocumented migrants have arrived in Italy so far this year, including some 21,000 who said they were from Tunisia.

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