Italy's Interior Minister Matteo Salvini. Credit: ANSA/ Giuseppe Lami
Italy's Interior Minister Matteo Salvini. Credit: ANSA/ Giuseppe Lami

Two undercover police officers in Turin said they saw French police secretly drop off migrants in Italian territory last Friday morning, setting of a diplomatic row between Italy and France. In the reports, the officers said they saw people of African origin getting out of a French gendarmery police van on the road that stretches from Claviere to Cesana, high in the Susa Valley.

The Turin prosecutor's office has opened an investigation into the episode, and exact facts still aren't clear. However, the broad strokes of the case resemble an episode from last March, when French customs police raided the office of an Italian migrant NGO in Bardonecchia. 

France expresses 'regret over mistake'

The Italian foreign minister inquired into the case, and government sources in Paris told ANSA that the government "is working to clarify what appears to be an accident." Interior Minister Matteo Salvini blasted French President Emmanuel Macron regarding the episode. "Macron, who says he is good and generous, dumps migrants off at night in Italy? We demand clear, fast, and unequivocal answers from Paris," Salvini said. France responded by saying that the episode was an "error" for which it expresses "regret".

Cécile Bigot-Dekeyzer, prefect of the French region Hautes-Alpes, said the police officers involved had only been on the job for a few days in the region bordering Italy, and they "didn't know the place well." Upon learning of the incident, Salvini had immediately made himself clear. "If someone really thinks that they can use us as Europe's refugee camp, breaching laws, borders and agreements, they are making a big mistake," he said. Italian police said the French police used hand gestures to indicate to the two migrants that they needed to get out of the van, and then sent them away. The migrants then walked off into the forest, while the van departed in the direction of the French border. Italian police took a photo and recorded the van's license plate number.

Patrol in Claviere after clearing of migrant centre 

The Italian police said they noticed the van during a patrol in the Claviere area, which is the last town in Italian territory before the French border. The town had become a hotbed of protest by "No Border" activists following the evacuation last week of the Chez Jesus migrant shelter, which was located in the village's rectory. On Monday morning, protesters set up a field tent in the parking lot near the church, but left after law enforcement and the town's mayor intervened. The group of protesters was identified as 11 anarchists, most of whom were French. 

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