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African migrants in Rome. Photo supplied

Italy, Malta clash with Berlin, Paris over nearest migrant ports

Italy has clashed with France and Germany on migrant landing ports once again. Differences were highlighted at a mini-summit ahead of informal talks between EU interior and justice ministers in Helsinki on Thursday.

Published: July 19, 2019, 8:34 am

    Helsinki

    Italy’s Deputy Premier Matteo Salvini told his counterparts that his country was still against the principle of the nearest port being the one that has to take migrants.

    According to Interior Ministry sources, Salvini was backed by his Maltese colleague, they said.

    But Paris and Berlin are insisting on getting approval for a document that binds Mediterranean countries on migrant landings in the nearest ports, sources said. The issue was raised at Wednesday night’s dinner ahead of the summit.

    Italy and Malta prepared an unofficial “non paper” for the meeting in Helsinki saying that “the rules of search and rescue at sea (SAR) must no longer be exploited”, according to a copy which Italian news agency ANSA has obtained.

    The confidential document,  a discussion paper which is not to form part of formal business, is entitled “New scenarios, new rules for a legal framework on illegal migration by sea and for a reform of asylum strategies”.

    The non paper also maintains that the management of asylum applications should include repatriations.

    “The current dynamics of migration require a comprehensive revision of the rules and strategies regarding irregular immigration by sea, and the management of asylum applications, which must also include the repatriation of persons whose application for international protection has been rejected,” the unofficial document prepared by the Italian and Maltese officials says.

    Italy and Malta have to bear the brunt of sea-borne migration to Europe via the central Mediterranean route, even though migrant arrivals are down by about 80 percent this year, to around 3 000.

    A Nigerian immigrant mafia clan that allegedly controlled a big chunk of the drugs and prostitution markets in Piedmont and Emilia Romagna was meanwhile busted by Turin and Bologna police in twin operations on Thursday.

    Among those arrested were the heads of the so-called Maphite Cult, which initiated members with burning rituals as well as running sex workers with voodoo rites, keeping ties with other mafias and controlling the drugs flow.

    The clan was run according to the rules of their “Green Bible” whose commandments included the “Mario Monti” norm on recycling money to countries of origin, police said.

    Interior Minister Matteo Salvini hailed the bust. “Maxi-operation against the Nigerian mafia, so much for those who denied its existence. Thanks to the police and investigators. We don’t need this kind of immigration. Ports closed, jails open!,” he tweeted.

    Salvini has closed Italy’s ports to NGO run migrant rescue ships, and has engaged in a string of high-profile standoffs with the EU and the NGOs, but smaller boats transporting illegals continue to arrive on Italy’s shores daily.

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