I concluded last Saturday’s report with an account of the granting of temporary residence visas to the Tunisian immigrants at the Ventimiglia refugee camp in Italy. Ventimiglia is a short distance from the border with France, and many of the Tunisians have relatives in France. As a result, as soon as they leave Ventimiglia, they attempt to cross the border.
Every body knows this. The French know it and the Italians know it. Those temporary visas serve as “passports”, and the Italians think they should allow migrants free access to the entire Schengen Area. However, the rest of the EU disagrees, especially France. By granting visas to the migrants, Italy is saying, in effect: “OK, France — we’re going to help these culture-enrichers get into the Promised Land in France. What are you going to do about it?”
The French promptly demonstrated just exactly what they were going to do about it: yesterday they stopped Italian trains from crossing the border at Ventimiglia.
Before we delve into that story, let’s take a look at the latest effort by the EU to help Italy. The Italians have insisted that the crisis is a European one, and not just an Italian one, and that therefore the EU must help. Yesterday the Romanians promised to do their share: they are willing to take 200 refugees off of Italy’s hands:
Here’s a brief report from AGI:
Romania Will Let 200 Tunisians From Italy Into the Country
Bucharest — Romania is ready to let 200 Tunisian immigrants coming from Italy into the country, president Basescu said. “Berlusconi asked Europe for help, and this is Romania’s response”, President Traian Basescu said after notifying Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi of his decision.
200 is exactly twice the number that Germany agreed to take earlier this month. Add them together, and they make up about one percent of the thirty thousand or so culture enrichers who have flooded Italian ports since the beginning of January. At this rate, it will take a mere twenty-four years to relocate the entire load of enrichment from Italy to other European destinations. Assuming, of course, that no more refugees arrive.
Not bad — for the EU. I’m sure the Italians really appreciate all that help.
For all practical purposes, the only help the EU is willing to offer is money. And money isn’t enough to solve this crisis — if this rate of cultural enrichment continues, it will destroy the social fabric of Italy, no matter how many euros the Italians have to spend on the problem.
No wonder they keep issuing those visas.
Now we’ll take a look at the Great Ventimiglia Train Stoppage. A series of articles from AGI will provide a rough outline of events as they unfolded yesterday.
The process began after large numbers of camp residents received their visas. As soon as that happened, the number of migrants at the camp mysteriously dropped:
Fewer in Ventimiglia After Passage to France
Ventimiglia — About 150 Tunisian immigrants spent the night in the provisional reception centre in Ventimiglia, fewer than in the past few days. Some of them have left Italy and gone to France after being granted a residence permit. This morning many Tunisians were in line in front of the police station for their permits.
The French didn’t hesitate:
All Trains to France From Ventimiglia Canceled
Ventimiglia — All trains leaving for France from Ventimiglia railway station have been suspended due to protests. Some 250 protesters, including staff from social service centers and immigrants, have gathered around the station in southern Italy to call for the free circulation of Tunisian refugees in Europe. Dozens of travelers going abroad from the station are now stuck.
The enrichers were protesting because of the restrictions on their movements, and the French restricted their movements because of the protests. Which came first, the chicken or the egg?
In any case, the initial protest was at the railway station:
Protesters Occupy Railways in Ventimiglia
Ventimiglia — Crying “freedom”, hundreds of protesters, blocked since this morning in Ventimiglia, have occupied the railway. The protesters, who are trying to reach France, accompanying the refugees to the border, have, as a group, occupied the tracks in the direction of France. The demonstrators have halted in the vicinity of a train crossing and are deciding how to proceed. It is not yet clear if they mean to reach the French border on foot, or if they will stop to stage a sit-in protest.
And then at the French consulate in Ventimiglia:
Ventimiglia Sit-in, French Consulate Blocked Off
Ventimiglia — A large number of Police, Carabinieri and Financial Police in anti-riot gear have been deployed in Ventimiglia. They are preventing demonstrators gaining access to the French Consulate in Via Hanbury, in Ventimiglia. Roughly 300 non-wage earners from social centres and Tunisian migrants are protesting against the closure of the border with France and the ban on the free movement of refugees in Europe.
The Italians then demanded to know why the French had stopped the trains — as if they had no idea:
Italy Asks France to Explain Decision to Stop Trains
Rome — The Italian government has protested strongly against France’s decision to stop all trains from Ventimiglia, a provision that Foreign Minister Franco Frattini considers “illegal”. Frattini immediately instructed the Italian Ambassador to France to take all necessary diplomatic steps “to express Italy’s firm protest and ask for explanations regarding the aforementioned decisions that appear illegitimate and in clear violation of general European principles.”
The mayor of Ventimiglia reminded the world that the Mediterranean littoral is the border not just for Italy, but for Europe itself. In this he is quite correct — the “ever closer union” has always implied an “all for one and one for all” policy in Europe.
But Italy is discovering that a massive new wave of cultural enrichment has changed the rules:
“We Are Europe’s Border”, Says Ventimiglia Mayor
Ventimiglia — The mayor of Ventimiglia (Liguria) said that “Italy should not be left on its own, we are Europe’s border”. The number of demonstrators demanding freedom of movement in the EU for Tunisian migrants has grown in front of Ventimiglia’s train station. “It seems like a peaceful protest to me,” mayor Gaetano Scullino stated, “I think the free movement of refugees is a European result”. “I hope that all European countries do their part to face this current emergency,” he added.
After the French were certain that Italy had received the message, they relented:
Trains to France to Resume Running on Schedule Soon
Paris — France will not change its rules on immigration and soon trains from Italy will be allowed into France, sources of the French Interior Ministry reported. The decision is due to the protests which broke out in the border city of Ventimiglia.
France has not changed its immigration policy, as it was stated ten days ago when Italy’s Interior Minister Maroni met with his French counterpart in Milan.
The entire course of yesterday’s events was summarized in this AP article:
Rome — A train carrying Tunisian immigrants from Italy was halted at the French border Sunday in an escalation of an international dispute over the fate of North African migrants fleeing political unrest for refuge in Europe.
But France blamed what it said were hundreds of activists on the train planning a demonstration in France, and posing a problem to public order. Traffic was re-established by evening — but not before Italy lodged a formal protest.
“At no time was there a … closing of the border between France and Italy,” French Interior Ministry spokesman Pierre-Henri Brandet said. It was an “isolated problem,” he said by telephone, “an undeclared demonstration.”
He estimated that up to 10 trains may have been affected, five on each side.
There was no immediate Italian reaction to the French explanation late Sunday.
A spokesman for the Italian rail company, Maurizio Furia, told The Associated Press in Rome that the train carrying migrants and political activists who support them wasn’t allowed to pass into Menton, France, from the border station of Ventimiglia on Sunday.
Italy lodged a protest with the French government, calling the move “illegitimate and in clear violation of general European principles” the Italian Foreign Ministry said. Foreign Minister Franco Frattini ordered his envoy in Paris “to express the strong protest of the Italian government.”
The French Foreign Ministry had no immediate comment.
However, France’s Interior Ministry insisted on the isolated nature of the problem and said that once the train was blocked, activists demonstrated on the train tracks in Vintimiglia, forcing the prefect there to take action because they were blocking traffic.
The ministry spokesman said the French rail authority and the prefect of France’s Alpes-Maritimes region, which governs the French border town of Menton, ordered the train blocked because activists planned an unauthorized demonstration once in France.
“France did not demand the closing of rail traffic between France and Italy. It was a consequence” of the activists plans which threatened public order, Brandet said.
The distinction is critical as tensions rise between Paris and Rome over the migrants.
European nations have been increasingly and bitterly sparring over the issue.
“We have given the migrants travel documents, and we gave everything (else) that is needed, and the European Commission recognized that, it has said that Italy is following the Schengen rules,” Italian Interior Minister Roberto Maroni said in an interview on Italy’s Sky TG24 TV.
Visa-”free travel is legitimate for all those with the papers and who want to go to France,” said Maroni, a top officials of the anti-immigrant Northern League party, a main coalition partner of Premier Silvio Berlusconi.
Mr. Berlusconi’s government insists that the visas issued to the migrants should allow them free passage anywhere within the Schengen are, and he is backed up to some extent by the EU bureaucracy in Brussels. But the governments of individual European nations — that is, the people who will be directly responsible for this onslaught of new culture enrichment — do not agree.
In the end, France and Germany will effectively determine EU policy concerning the new immigrants, because Brussels — like the Pope — has no divisions.
That was yesterday. The Great Ventimiglia Train Stoppage produced some interesting fallout in today’s news. AGI reports that the EU has changed its mind about Schengen, and has come down on the side of France:
EU Claims France Had the Right to Block Immigrants’ Trains
Brussels — France “had the right” to temporarily block the railway traffic for reasons of public order. The comment was made by EU Commissioner for Internal Affairs Cecilia Malmstrom.
AKI confirms the AGI article and reports on the resumption of train service at Ventimiglia:
Italy: France Allows African Migrant Trains From Italy Amid Row
Ventimiglia, 18 April — France on Monday allowed trains from Italy with migrants on board to enter its territory after a temporary block on Sunday sparked Rome’s ire. The move came after the Italian government issued six-month visas to tens of thousands of mainly Tunisian migrants who entered Italy this year from turmoil-rocked North Africa.
Around 30 Tunisian immigrants returned on Monday to Ventimiglia station, which lies about 8 kilometres from the border with France. Around 150 of them had stayed in a migrant centre overnight, while another 50 slept in the a corridor in the station’s customs department when France-bound services were stopped.
Italian foreign minister Franco Frattini ordered Italy’s ambassador in Paris to express “the firm protest of the Italian government to the French authorities,” according to a foreign ministry statement.
France’s actions appear to be “illegitimate and in clear violation of general European principles,” it said.
[Italian interior minister Roberto] Maroni said he is confident that next week’s summit in Rome between French president Nicolas Sarkozy and Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi will ease the current diplomatic crisis over immigration.
“We feel confident that the summit of April 26 will amicably resolve issues which should not continue,” Maroni said.
France has sent a letter to the European Commission in Brussels to explain the action taken by authorities to stop trains from Italy crossing the border on Sunday.
“France appears to have the right to do this,” was the initial comment of EU internal affairs commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem.
ANSAmed has more:
Train Blockade: EU: France Acted Correctly
Rome — The first assessment based on sources in the European Commission indicates that France has not violated European regulations by temporarily keeping trains from Ventimiglia from entering the country, to block trains with Tunisian immigrants on board. The sources point out that these kind of measures can be justified for reasons of public order.
France claims that the decision to block train traffic for several hours was taken after the announcement that an unauthorised demonstration in support of Tunisian migrants would be held, to avoid the risk of incidents. European Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom has said that it was a “very temporary suspension” and that France “had the right to do so”.
Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini disagrees: “three hundred no-global supporters or even fewer than that who stage a protest are no real problem of public order”, he said. “France has used the issue of public order as an excuse. We have protested loudly” against France’s initiative “and traffic has been resumed. That’s all”, the Italian FM concluded.
The interior ministers from the affected countries will meet tomorrow in Cyprus to discuss the issue:
EU Ministers to Meet in Cyprus to Discuss Immigration
A Ministerial meeting will take place tomorrow in Cyprus with the participation of EU Ministers from the six Mediterranean states, which are faced with disproportionate mass immigration flows.
EU Ministers from Cyprus, Greece, Malta, France, Spain and Italy (Roberto Maroni), responsible for immigration issues, will gather in Nicosia tomorrow at the invitation of the Minister of the Interior Neoclis Sylikiotis. The Nicosia meeting, as CNA reports, will focus on the situation in North Africa and the Middle East and immigration flows which exert disproportionate pressure on the six EU Mediterranean countries.
The meeting will discuss the need for a comprehensive management of immigration flows in the EU framework, based on the principle of solidarity among EU member states. During the meeting, the Ministers will put forward common proposals in a Joint Communique, which will then be submitted to the next EU Council of Justice and Interior Ministers.
Last but not least — Mr. Maroni is certain that France and Italy can cut a deal. According to ANSA:
Rome, April 18 — Italy’s Interior Minister Roberto Maroni is confident that next week’s summit in Rome between French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi will ease the current diplomatic crisis over immigration.
“We feel confident that the summit of (April) 26 will amicably resolve issues which should not continue,” Maroni said.
The minister was speaking after France blocked the passage of trains from Italy for seven hours on Sunday to stop North African migrants from entering the country.
Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said the move was “a clear violation” of European principles and asked the Italian ambassador to France to lodge a formal protest.
France has sent a letter to the European Commission in Brussels to explain the action taken by authorities on the French-Italian border on Sunday. Commission spokesman Michele Cercone said it would be evaluated before the commission made any comment about what happened. On a visit to the Romanian capital Bucharest on Monday, French Interior Minister Claude Gueant said France did not want to have any tensions with Rome on the issue of Tunisian migrants.
Gueant said that the Italian government’s decision to issue temporary permits “had been disputed by many countries in the European Union” but “we have accepted this measure” with several conditions including “sufficient financial resources.” France-bound train services returned to normal on Monday in the northern town of Ventimiglia, the final Italian stop only eight kilometres from the French border, and there were no reports of any immigrants being sent back by French authorities.
And what about the culture enrichers themselves? What do they say about the whole kerfuffle?
Well, some of them — big surprise! — are complaining:
Around 30 Tunisian immigrants returned to Ventimiglia station on Monday to resume their journey after Sunday’s disruption. “I am very angry, I wanted to leave yesterday,” a migrant called Abdel told ANSA. “I was in the queue at the ticket office when the French stopped the trains because of the protest.
“But why protest, we are not doing anything, on the contrary, before the protest we were travelling into France without any problems”.
You’ll notice that his complaint concerns the disruption of business as usual — that is, up until yesterday, the Tunisians had been accustomed to having the run of the place.
Now everything returns to normal. But for how long?
Hat tips: Insubria, C. Cantoni, and Fjordman.