EU ministers to discuss migrant crisis next week

Interior ministers will hold talks on an issue that has long been simmering in the bloc

Migrants during a rescue operation by the Ocean Viking off the coast of Libya in February 2020. Reuters
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EU interior ministers will meet next week to discuss the migrant crisis, officials announced on Thursday, after a row erupted between France and Italy over the arrival of migrants rescued at sea.

An extraordinary meeting of the Home Affairs council will take place on November 25 in an attempt to resolve the dispute, diplomats in Brussels said.

"Ministers will address the current situation in all migratory routes," the EU's Czech presidency said.

The advent of a new, far-right-led government in Italy with a hardline stance on migration has focused new attention on the issue, which has long been simmering in the EU.

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni wants other EU nations to take in more irregular migrants and appears ready to force the issue to the top of the European agenda.

Her country — along with Cyprus, Greece and Malta — is unhappy that a voluntary European system to manage migrant flows is not doing enough to take the pressure off them.

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This month Italy refused access to a charity rescue ship, the Ocean Viking, carrying 234 migrants saved from the Mediterranean.

France allowed the vessel to dock at its port city of Toulon, but suspended a plan to take 3,500 refugees currently in Italy, under the European distribution pact.

Ms Meloni hit back, calling France's response "aggressive" and "unjustified".

France has so far also rejected asylum applications from 44 of the 234 migrants who landed in Toulon and says they will be returned to their countries of origin.

Of those allowed to stay, France and Germany will take in about a third, with the rest going to other EU nations who have volunteered.

Migration into the EU through other routes, particularly the western Balkans, is also concerning EU member states.

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After criticism from Brussels that Serbia, a non-EU country that borders the bloc, was a staging ground for irregular migrants seeking to enter the EU, Belgrade said it would tighten its visa policy.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said on Wednesday that Tunisians and Burundians would now need visas to enter his country.

The European Commission last month warned it was not ruling out scrapping visa-waiver access for Serbians if Belgrade did not act on irregular migration.

Meanwhile, more than half of the 44 minors who were on board the Ocean Viking refugee rescue ship have fled from the French social service agencies taking care of them, authorities said on Thursday.

On Thursday, the Var prefecture said that 26 of the 44 minors on the ship had fled the Toulon hotel where they had been housed.

It said the children who left were mainly Eritreans who preferred to join relatives in other European countries, including the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Switzerland and Germany.

The children were not locked up and were free to go where they wanted. The adults who were aboard the ship, operated by Doctors without Borders (MSF), are held in a social centre and are not allowed to leave.

Migrant ship docks in France after Italy refuses entry - video

The prefecture said that social service agencies would continue to provide temporary shelter, medical care and schooling for the remaining Ocean Viking minors in its care.

Last week, the Var region prefect said the migrants would be sent to a holding site where they would be given medical care and their asylum requests processed.

Those not deemed eligible to stay would be returned to their home countries.

Updated: November 17, 2022, 10:55 PM
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