MILAN, ITALY – Italy’s prime minister and France’s president put on a show of unity on Sunday, dismissing suggestions of tensions between their countries over handling the waves of migrants landing on Southern Europe’s shores.
Ministers in Paris and Rome have exchanged barbs after France began turning back migrants at the French-Italian border earlier this month, invoking EU rules requiring refuge seekers to do so in the first European country where they set foot.
Italy has long argued that it and Greece cannot cope alone with the influx just because they are the closest landing points for refugees and economic migrants from Africa and the Middle East streaming toward the European Union in rickety boats.
Following a meeting with France’s Francois Hollande at the Expo 2015 world fair in Milan, Italy’s Matteo Renzi said the two saw eye-to-eye and would push for an agreement with other European Union states at a summit scheduled for Thursday and Friday.
“Were there tensions to defuse? No,” Renzi told a joint news conference. “Ministers have been making statements … it’s like couples who have been together for a long time.”
Hollande said Italy should not be left to handle the brunt of the migrant crisis, but rules had to be followed. He rejected national quotas for resettling the migrants, saying voluntary commitments by individual states would be more effective.
“The quota system creates confusion … and makes no sense,” he said. “Every country has to say how much it can do, taking into account its specific geographic, economic and also political situation. But it’s clear that every country has to make a commitment.”
A number of EU countries have stressed that any acceptance system should be based on a voluntary approach.
Last week, Italian police began hauling away around 300 mainly African migrants camped out on coastal rocks at the border town of Ventimiglia, many hoping to proceed through France to Northern Europe where some had relatives and job opportunities might be better.
More than 50,000 migrants have arrived in Italy so far this year. Reuters TV filmed more migrants being helped off a boat at the port of Crotone in the southern Calabria region on Sunday.
Local media said there were more than 700 people on that boat, which was flying the flag of Luxembourg.
Renzi said there was no reason for hysteria, but also called on other countries in the region to not be selfish.