Apr 14, 2011, 15:39 GMT
Brussels – Boats from the European Union’s border patrol mission Frontex should send migrants found at sea straight back to Tunisia, rather than take them to Italy for identification, French Prime Minister Francois Fillon suggested on Thursday.
Italy has faced an influx of nearly 23,000 Tunisians since mid- January, when an autocratic regime in that country was toppled by popular protests. Most of them landed in Lampedusa, a tiny island straining under the pressure.
‘To avoid those situations that lead Frontex vessels to salvage clandestines at sea and take them to Lampedusa, it would be more intelligent to take them directly to Tunisia,’ Fillon said after talks in Brussels with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso.
Fillon’s proposal could prove controversial, as the internationally recognized non-refoulement principle states that authorities cannot push back migrants without checking first for the presence of asylum-seekers.
Barroso did not comment upon Fillon’s idea, but said he told Tunisian authorities during a visit on Tuesday that it was in their interest to help control migration to avoid such a ‘sensitive’ issue being hijacked by ‘certain populist, extremist forces’ in EU countries.
France’s Front National and Italy’s Northern League are among the right-wing parties wooing voters with tough anti-immigration slogans.