Italy and France urge border-treaty reform
Sarkozy and Berlusconi call on EU to change the Schengen treaty following row over mass immigration from north Africa.
Last Modified: 26 Apr 2011 14:28
Sarkozy and Berlusconi believe the Schengen treaty should make room for mass immigration flows [Reuters]

Italy and France are calling on the European Union to make changes to a treaty that allows passport-free travel through 25 nations in the region, after a row over immigration.

Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, and Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian prime minister, said on Tuesday that the Schengen treaty must account for "exception" situations such as massive immigration flows.

Both leaders want EU states to re-impose internal border controls more easily.

"We want Schengen to survive, but to survive Schengen must be reformed," Sarkozy said after meeting Berlusconi in Rome, the Italian capital.

"We believe in free circulation but we believe in a state of law and a certain number of rules."

Berlusconi said: "We both believe that in exceptional circumstances there should be variations to the Schengen treaty".

The two countries are attempting to end a rift over immigration, after thousands of people from north Africa fled for the European mainland following a popular revolution in Tunisia.

France criticised Italy when it granted around 20,000 Tunisians temporary residence permits, allowing them to freely travel across Europe to France, where many have relatives.

France then angered Italy, when police stopped a train carrying a number of those migrants at the two countries' border last week.

Passport-free travel

Designed as a step towards European integration, the Schengen treaty, signed in 1985, allows passport-free travel to 400m people in 25 nations in Europe.

France has accused Italy of abusing the Schengen pact by issuing the temporary residence permits and travel documents.

Both Berlusconi and Sarkozy - who faces a presidential election in a year's time - are under pressure from the right on immigration at a time in which unrest in north Africa has displaced thousands of people around the Mediterranean.

Italy has complained for weeks of being left alone to cope with the arrival of a total of nearly 30,000 migrants from north Africa so far this year, some fleeing the conflict in Libya, and the majority from Tunisia.

However, international agencies have said that north African countries are the ones suffering from migration.

"In terms of migration, the migratory pressure is not for the moment on European countries, it is on countries of North Africa," Jean-Philippe Chauzy, spokesman for the Switzerland-based International
Organisation for Migration (IOM), said.

"You have more than 600,000 people who have left Libya and transited through neighbouring countries; Tunisia, Egypt have kept their borders open, Chad and Mali and others have done the same."

The majority of those who have fled across the border were Tunisian or Egyptian migrant workers who had found jobs in the north African country.

"And yet we're looking at some 28,000 people who arrived on Lampedusa," Chauzy said, referring to the Italian island in the Mediterranean Sea which is the primary port of call for those trying to reach Europe.

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