France wins fight over refugee train

Italian trains stopped

European Commission backs border railway shutdown to prevent trouble as hundreds of Tunisians arrive on Côte d’Azur

FRANCE has been backed by the European Commission in its row with Italy over Sunday’s shutdown of the rail link between the two countries to halt a train loaded with Tunisian immigrants. France said it feared the arrival of the train would lead to “public disorder”.

Italy has protested against the closure of the Vintimille-Menton railway link for six hours on Sunday saying it was a “violation of European principles”. Some Italian protest groups said it “violated the basic right of free movement of citizens”.

The shutdown came after a “train of dignity” carrying 100 Tunisian and nearly 300 human rights activists was stopped at the Italian border at Vintimille. Other trains were said to be carrying several hundred Tunisians who had been given three-month temporary visas after landing in the island of Lampedusa.

The island has been swamped by an estimated 25,000 Tunisians and Libyans since the troubles in those countries.

EU partners ignored Italian appeals for help to cope and Rome then decided to give three-month visas to the migrants that would allow them to leave Italy for other countries in the Schengen Treaty zone.

However, the European Commission says the conditions of the Schengen treaty allow migrants to travel to other Schengen countries only if they have valid travel documents and can support themselves independently.

The Italian government has denounced the French move, but a French foreign ministry spokesman said the EC had backed its view that the Tunisians were economic migrants and not qualified to stay in the EU.

Interior minister Claude Guéant said France was applying the Schengen Treaty “to the letter”.

 The Schengen Agreement was a treaty signed in 1985 by France, West Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxemburg to remove border passport controls. It now extends to 25 countries, including Switzerland, Norway and Ireland although the UK and Ireland have insisted on maintaining border barriers.

Photo: Ivanfurlanis

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