French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin arrived in Rome on Monday evening, where he delivered a message of "firmness" in the face of clandestine crossings of the Mediterranean, following the influx of migrants to the Italian island of Lampedusa.
"At the request of the President (Emmanuel Macron) I'm going to Rome" to offer Italy help in "holding its external border", the main gateway to Europe from North Africa, Darmanin said on Monday.
Between Monday and Wednesday, some 8,500 people - more than the entire population of Lampedusa - arrived on 199 boats, according to the UN migration agency.
This situation has put the island's reception capacity under severe strain, generated a political shockwave in Italy and reopened the thorny question of European solidarity in terms of reception and distribution of asylum seekers, and to support the countries on the front line of these arrivals.
"There can be no message given to people who come to our (European) soil that they will be welcomed no matter what," Gérald Darmanin stressed, however, intent on showing "firmness".
"We must apply European rules", he added: France will be able to "welcome" people persecuted "for political reasons". But in "60%" of cases, they "come from countries like Côte d'Ivoire, Guinea, Gambia", where "there is no humanitarian issue".
New measures in Italy
"We must protect the European Union's external borders and, above all, immediately look at asylum applications and, when they are not eligible, send them back to their country", he said.
This was a message aimed at Italy's right-wing and far-right government, whose leader Giorgia Meloni on Sunday criticized its European partners for failing to show solidarity with Italy, which has taken in almost 130,000 people since the start of the year, almost double the number in 2022 over the same period.
In Paris, it is noted that Rome has not yet requested the distribution of migrants, and Meloni is being persuaded to examine asylum applications in Italy while putting pressure on the Tunisians to better control departures.
Without waiting for a European response, the Italian government on Monday approved new measures designed to stem the flow of arrivals, notably by creating more detention centers for migrants whose asylum applications have been rejected, and increasing the maximum duration of such confinement from four to eighteen months.
On Sunday, European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen presented an emergency plan for Lampedusa.
This ten-point aid plan, designed to deal with the emergency migratory flows towards Italy, provides for a better distribution of asylum seekers between European countries, as well as facilitating returns.
It is supposed to combine a firm stance against smugglers with the facilitation of legal entry into Europe for asylum-seekers.
'Rehashing old recipes'
Italy's European partners, the first country to enter the EU on this migratory route, must do their part, said the President of the European Commission on Sunday.
"The answer must be found in cooperation between Europeans" and "between Europeans and Tunisia", agreed French diplomatic chief Catherine Colonna at the United Nations on Monday.
In a joint statement, more than 80 associations, including sea rescue NGOs, deplored "old recipes that the European Union has been rehashing for decades, and which have all failed."
"For her part, Marine Le Pen, president of the Rassemblement National (RN) group in the French National Assembly, blasted the European Union on TF1, calling for "a legal wall" to be erected against immigration.
In France, the authorities are anticipating a massive influx of migrants at the Italian border, following recent arrivals, and are looking to set up a "space" with a hundred additional detention places at the border police headquarters in Menton.
The central Mediterranean is the world's most dangerous maritime migration route, with over 2,000 migrants killed since the beginning of the year, according to the International Organization for Migration.