French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said he would visit Rome on Monday to discuss migration, after a week of mass arrivals on the Italian island of Lampedusa drew a European response.
France wants to “help Italy to secure its borders” as one of the European Union’s main countries of arrival for migrants crossing from North Africa, Darmanin told broadcaster Europe1 when he announced the trip for later in the day.
Darmanin’s office said he would meet his Italian counterpart, Matteo Piantedosi.
Some 8,500 people arrived on Lampedusa on 199 boats between Monday and Wednesday last week, according to figures from United Nations body the International Organization for Migration, prompting European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen to travel there Sunday to announce an emergency action plan.
The mass movement has stoked the immigration debate in France, where political parties in the country’s hung parliament are wrangling over a draft law governing new arrivals.
“There cannot be the message to people arriving on our (European) shores that they will be welcomed whatever happens”, Darmanin said, promising to project “firmness” in Rome.
“We have to apply European rules” on receiving people and distributing them among EU member states, he added, after Germany suspended transfers of migrants from Italy over alleged breaches by Rome.
“If there are asylum seekers eligible for asylum, who are persecuted for political reasons, of course they are refugees. And in those cases, France… as it has always done, can welcome those people,” Darmanin said.
But “60 percent” of arrivals “come from countries like Ivory Coast, Guinea or The Gambia… with no humanitarian issues”, he added.
“We have to protect the EU’s external borders and, above all, look into asylum requests immediately, and send people back to their country when they’re not eligible.”
France is expected to face a call from Pope Francis for greater tolerance towards migrants later this week during a high-profile visit to Mediterranean city Marseille, where the pontiff will meet President Emmanuel Macron and celebrate mass for tens of thousands in a stadium.
Francis called on Sunday for “putting human dignity and real people, especially those most in need, in first place”.