CHIAVARI, Italy - The photos in this post were taken at the border between France and Italy last week. They show the plight of French speaking migrants trying to leave Italy and enter France, only to be refused entry.
|Migrants on the French-Italian Border|
As Americans celebrate 4th of July this weekend, a date that represents the birth of the United States of America as an independent nation, there are many people around the world for whom freedom is still only a dream.
The dream of the migrants arriving in Sicily and other parts of Italy, is to travel to France, Germany, Britain or Sweden and request asylum. But French border police have been ordered not to let them through. Their fear is they will not pass through France but will chose to remain there, as the majority of them speak French.
The European Union recently suspended the 1986 Schengen Agreement, which abolished all internal borders allowing for the free movement of people within Europe. This allowed the French border police, to refuse entry to 200 migrants.
The angry migrants decided to go on a hunger strike while others organized a sit-in at the border crossing and tried to block traffic.
“We are not going back, we need to pass,” read one large banner, while another read, “We need freedom.” Before the Italian police could act, the migrants sat down on pieces of cardboard and sheltered under trees and buses. The women and children accepted the food provided by the Italian Red Cross, but the men did not.
“We won’t eat,” said one 20-year-old man. “ We spent all day yesterday in the heat and last night in the cold and rain. If we are going to die here, there is no need to eat.”
A record number of 1,439 migrants were intercepted last week by the French police in the mountainous Alpes-Maritimes region of southeast France, and 1,097 were returned to Italy. They were the ones who had slipped through the border made their way into France.
In Italy the influx of asylum seekers from the Middle East and Africa is reaching critical mass. An average of 10,000 people a week are being rescued from the Mediterranean and there have been warnings that as many as 500,000 refugees could try to cross over to Italy this year.
While there is sympathy for the plight of people fleeing war, persecution and poverty, Italians say they cannot be expected to shoulder the burden without help from Europe, but so far all the European Union has offered is bad advice.
Italy was required to terminate its search and rescue operation, Mare Nostrum, last October and replace it with a much smaller operation run by Frontex, the European Unions border control agency which has to rely on help from merchant ships. Last year, merchant ships rescued 44,000 migrants, out of the 170,000 who reached Italy from North Africa.
One Italian tugboat, which normally supplies oil rigs in the Mediterranean, claims to have assisted in 60 rescues last year and 22 so far this year.
“The situation is unsustainable,” said one Italian tugboat owner. “Taking part in rescues is no longer unusual – it has become routine. Like other merchant ships we are being called on to help out on a daily basis, but our crews are not trained to deal with these operations. We can’t provide medical care, thermal blankets or emergency food.”
Italy is simply overwhelmed by the sheer number of migrants crossing from the North African coast in search of a better life in Europe. Italian Intelligence Reports state that there are up to 800,000 additional migrants waiting in Libya and other parts of North Africa to make the crossing to what they think of as the “Promised Land”.
Realizing the bad impression they are giving the rest of the world, the French government is slowly accepting the demands of the Italians and allowing some immigrants through. When asked about it, the border police merely shrug and say, “C’est la politique,” “it’s politics.” But the reality is that many migrants are still being driven back at the French-Italian border.
|And So They Wait|
But the Italians are holding their ground and last week, when the French wanted to return 40 migrants to Italy, the Italians would not accept them.
The sad news is that there are no winners or losers in this game of human ping pong – nor does there seem to be a sustainable solution.