France calls on Italy to stem Arab migrant flow

AFP , Friday 4 Mar 2011

European neighbour worried by 'uncontrollable refugee flow' from north Africa unrest

France urged its neighbour Italy on Friday to "hold back" a mounting tide of Tunisian migrants that has begun to head to Europe and move north since their country's January uprising.

French Interior Minister Claude Geant, a close ally of President Nicolas Sarkozy, visited the Italian frontier for talks with police and immigration officials about what Paris fears will be an "uncontrollable" refugee flow.

"We expect our Italian friends to play by European rules," he said. "It is the responsibility of the country that first receives them. We ask them to hold back those who turn up there, and that they take back those we send back."

There are also concerns that the Tunisians will be joined by Libyans and Egyptians as political unrest spreads in North Africa, on a route already taken by many undocumented migrants from sub-Saharan Africa.

France is Tunisia's former colonial power and already has several hundred thousand residents of Tunisian descent, and so is worried that many Tunisians that make landfall in Italy will continue on towards the French border.

In February, French officials stopped 436 mostly Tunisian illegal immigrants in Alpes-Maritimes region, which borders Italy, Gueant told reporters. Of those, 250 have been sent back to Italy.

"The Italians are playing the game. We expect them to play it completely," he said, at a news conference in state offices in the city of Nice.

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