Brussels: An international dispute over a surge of Tunisian immigrants escalated on Thursday when the French foreign minister told Italy to send the migrants home instead of allowing them to travel to neighbouring nations.
Some 26,000 illegal migrants have taken boats across the Mediterranean to the small Italian island of Lampedusa in recent weeks in what Italian officials have labelled a "human tsunami”.
Italy has said the immigration is a Europe-wide problem and it will give the migrants six-month residence permits that would allow the migrants to travel to other countries in Europe`s visa-free Schengen travel zone.
France says it will only honour permits held by migrants who can prove they have sufficient financial resources. Beyond that, France has instituted patrols on the Italian border — unprecedented since the introduction of the Schengen zone. Germany has said it would do the same.
"A large part of the Tunisians that arrive in Italy should not be spread over different European nations like some propose. They should return to their nation," Fillon said. "There is no rule that says that illegal economic migrants should be welcomed here and allowed to travel freely in Europe."
EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said after talks with Fillon that he is pressing Tunisia to do its utmost in taking their nationals back.
On Monday, Italian Interior Minister Roberto Maroni said there was little point in staying in the EU if countries would not cooperative on issues like migration from Tunisia, which was destabilised by an uprising that overthrew its longtime president in January.
Officials say two women drowned while attempting to reach Italy on Thursday after their boat with 250 people aboard went off course and ran aground just off the Italian island of Pantelleria. Last week, an immigrant boat believed to be carrying 300 migrants capsized and only about 50 people were rescued.