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Horst Seehofer; BAMF headoffice. Photo supplied

Italy threatens to close airports in standoff with Germany over migrants

Italy has threatened to close its airports to German flights transporting migrants in a dispute over how to share responsibility for asylum seekers that has continued to escalate.

Published: October 8, 2018, 10:29 am

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    Rome

    Germany plans to send migrants back to Italy if they have already applied for asylum there, but Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini warned that there would be “no airport available” for any flights transporting migrants.

    Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, is preparing to send the first group of 40 migrants back to Italy on two flights scheduled to land in Rome this week, according to reports.

    Italian newspaper La Repubblica reported that Germany’s refugee agency, the Bundesamt für Migration und Flüchtlinge or BAMF, has sent “dozens of letters” to migrants alerting them to a planned transfer back to Italy.

    Charter flights for returning migrants may be arranged as early as next week, but Salvini said in response to the news: “If someone, in Berlin or Brussels, thinks of dumping dozens of immigrants in Italy via unauthorised charter flights, they should know that there is not and there will be no airport available.

    “We will close the airports as we closed the ports.” Italian media say up to 40 000 migrants could be repatriated from Germany soon.

    Neither Italian or German officials would confirm planned charter flights however. But last month Germany’s Interior Minister Horst Seehofer announced a deal with Italy that would soon be made official.

    A day after Seehofer’s announcement, Salvini refuted his claim. He said Germany had agreed that for every migrant returned to Italy, German authorities would accept an asylum seeker.

    Salvini also demanded further concessions – including a revision of the EU’s Dublin Regulation which dictates that the country of arrival should take responsibility for asylum. The Italian leader has argued the Dublin rule shifts the burden onto Mediterranean frontier states such as Italy and Greece while EU countries are able avoid responsibly.

    The regulation expressly states that the member state in which an asylum seeker first arrives, is responsible for processing the claim.

    According to Welt am Sonntag, a weekly German newspaper, Seehofer has urged German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte to intervene to end the standoff.

    “The agreement has been negotiated and follows the same principle as with Greece. We return refugees back to Italy, but we must take in the same number from sea rescues.”

    “But now Salvini is suddenly saying: I will only sign if Germany backs Italy’s position on asylum in the European Union. The heads of government are required to act (to solve this).”

    Both Seehofer and Merkel is under greater pressure ahead of Bavarian elections next week, with the migrant arrivals at the forefront of the campaign.

    Seehofer meanwhile appears to have backed down. He told the Italian news agency, ANSA: “No repatriation flights to Italy were being planned in the coming days.

    A new poll published by an Italian daily Corriere Della Sera on Saturday showed support for Salvini’s party at all-time high of 34 percent, with its coalition partner the Five Star Movement down slightly to 28.5 percent.

    Stephan Reichel, president of the German NGO ironically named Matteo, said migrants in Germany were afraid of being sent back to Italy.

    Reichel told The Telegraph: “There is no shelter, there is nothing organised. Most of them have to sleep on the streets without medical care.”

    He called the Italian interior minister’s attitude “racist and neofascist”.

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