France and Italy clash as migrant standoff opens EU rift

Updated 15 June 2015

France and Italy clash as migrant standoff opens EU rift

ROME: Italy and France engaged in a war of words Monday as a standoff over 250 Africans stuck at their common border exposed divisions over Europe’s migrant crisis.
Italian Interior Minister Angelino Alfano described images of migran ts perched on rocks at the border town of Ventimiglia after being refused entry to France as a “punch in the face for Europe.”
His French counterpart Bernard Cazeneuve hit back by insisting that France was fully within its rights to send illegal immigrants or asylum seekers back to Italy.
The clash sets the scene for some tough exchanges when the two men and other European Union ministers meet Tuesday in Luxembourg for talks on the crisis.
Around 250 migrants — most of them English-speaking Africans according to AFP reporters in Ventimiglia — have been camped there for four days, protesting that they should be allowed to enter France on their way to their desired destinations in northern Europe.
“We will stay here tomorrow, the day after and even several months if it is necessary,” said one of the Africans, 20-year-old Brahim from Darfur in Sudan.
“All we are asking is to be allowed to pass through France to get to other countries.”
Alfano said the border scenes were proof that the migrants had no desire to stay in Italy. “They want to go to other parts of Europe and they consider our country as a transit country.”
Cazeneuve dismissed that argument as irrelevant, citing the Dublin accords under which new arrivals in the European Union are supposed to be processed by the country in which they first land.
“The Dublin rules must be respected,” the French minister said. “When migrants arrive in France that have been through Italy and registered there, European law applies and that means they must be returned to Italy,” he told BFMTV.
Cazeneuve confirmed that French authorities had been turning back a growing number of migrants this year in a bid to prevent people with no claim to asylum entering the country, saying it was necessary to ensure legitimate refugees could be accommodated.
But he denied that Paris had effectively closed its border in breach of the spirit of the Schengen accords which provide for passport-free travel around much of continental Europe.
Italy says the Dublin rules on processing migrants are no longer appropriate given the scale of the problem. More than 220,000 people have landed at its southern ports since the start of 2014 and there is mounting anger over what Rome sees as its EU partners closing their eyes to the consequences of the migratory flows.
The spike in the numbers of people being sent back to Italy in the last two weeks has increased the pressure on the country’s reception facilities and led to a very visible build-up of migrants sleeping rough in and around major train stations: a development that has been pounced on by far-right politicians.
Prime Minister Matteo Renzi threatened on Sunday to implement a “Plan B” to deal with the migrant crisis that would “hurt” Europe.
Renzi did not specify what options he was considering but Italian media reported Monday that Rome could start issuing newly arrived migrants with temporary visas giving them the right to travel throughout the Schengen zone.
Such a move would be politically explosive as it would seriously undermine both the Dublin and Schengen accords.


UK PM says was obese but lost weight since virus scare

Updated 54 min 1 sec ago

UK PM says was obese but lost weight since virus scare

  • Boris Johnson: I am fitter than a butcher’s dog, thanks basically to losing weight
  • The 56-year-old spent three nights in intensive care in April after contracting Covid-19

LONDON: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson revealed Tuesday he was obese when he contracted coronavirus earlier this year, but after losing weight said he now felt much better.
The 56-year-old spent three nights in intensive care in April after contracting Covid-19, and there have been swirling questions about his health ever since.
“I am fitter than I was before, it may irritate you to know,” he said, when asked by a reporter about his health following a speech on education.
“I am fitter than a butcher’s dog, thanks basically to losing weight.
“When you reach 17 stone six (around 111 kg, 244 pounds) as I did, at a height of about five foot 10 (around 1.78 meters), it’s probably a good idea to lose weight, so that’s what I’ve done. And I feel much much better.”
An online calculator provided by the state-run National Health Service (NHS) suggests that a man with Johnson’s age, weight and height would have a body mass index (BMI) of 34.9 — classing him as obese.
It is not the first time Johnson has boasted about his health, using a newspaper interview in June to make the “butcher’s dog” analogy and even doing push-ups to prove his fitness.
But the issue has returned as a talking point amid disquiet among his Conservative lawmakers over his handling of a new uptick in coronavirus cases.
The outbreak has so far killed 42,000 people in Britain — the worst toll in Europe.
Johnson has recently been spotted running with a personal trainer in a park near his Downing Street office. As London mayor between 2008 and 2006, he was a keen cyclist.