EU backs France stopping migrant trains

EU has voiced its support for the decision of French authorities to halt migrant trains from Italy, which the country carried out in order to check the passengers’ documents.

European Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem said that France had acted within its rights. She added that the French authorities cited “public order reasons” to stop and inspect the trains.

On Sunday France halted a train carrying Tunisian migrants from the Italian border town of Ventimiglia into French territory. Earlier, Italy had granted temporary resident permits to about 26,000 Tunisian migrants, who were arriving in the country following the popular uprising in Tunisia. According to Italy, the permits allow free travel within the Schengen zone. 

However, France said that it would grant entry only to those migrants able to support themselves financially. EU officials confirmed on Monday that resident permits are not visas or EU passports and thus do not allow the migrants to travel freely across the Schengen zone. 

The French authorities also announced that the Tunisian migrants on the train were accompanied by hundreds of protesters, who were planning unauthorised demonstrations in France, and whose  actions may have posed a threat to the French population.

Shortly after the train was stopped, officials in Rome expressed their protests over France’s actions. The Italian authorities said that France had violated European principles. On Sunday evening the railway connection between Ventimiglia and Menton on the French side was resumed.

Both countries are right in this conflict, believes Fabrizio Tassinari from the Danish Institute for International Studies.

”The paradox of this situation and, if you like, the tragedy of it is that, in a way, both Italy and France are right. France, of course, is backed up by the commission and may have some reason to believe that Italy is a bit self-serving in this decision, meaning that for domestic purposes Italians would like to somehow let these immigrants move on,” he said. ”On the other hand, you can also argue that the Italians have a point when arguing that there must be some European solidarity in the extreme circumstances we are witnessing.”

­Meanwhile, UK Prime Minister David Cameron, who had earlier pledged to cut the number of immigrants entering the country, agreed to help more than 5,000 refugees from Libya.

David Campbell-Bannerman, member of the European Parliament and deputy leader of the Euro-sceptic UK Independence Party, believes Cameron was right to address the issue, but that European interior immigration still has to be managed and controlled. He thinks the conflict between France and Italy over Tunisian immigrants is extraordinary, but that it goes to the heart of the problem.

I think the key point in immigration is because we’re in the European Union, we have no control over certain types of immigration. If it’s within the EU, there’s no control, if it’s outside the EU, there’s some control, we can institute visas.

We need a visa system, we need to manage and control numbers. Let’s be humane, yes, but we need to control the numbers,” said Campbell-Bannerman.