Around a week after France announced increased controls for migrants at the border with Italy, French police and civil volunteers have started checking trains near the Italian town of Ventimiglia.
French police controls on trains at the Italian station of Ventimiglia, a town on the Mediterranean border with France, were in full force on November 29. A team of national police and civil reserve boarded trains, checked passengers and also looked at goods trains to check no one was hiding in or on the wagons.
The controls were reinforced after a diplomatic spat broke out between France and Italy earlier in November when Italy refused to take in around 280 migrants on board the Ocean Viking, a private rescue ship run by the organization SOS Mediterranee.
Although the Ocean Viking waited for some time off the coast of Sicily, it was eventually left with "no choice", according to its crew, but to sail additional days towards France and the port of Toulon where it eventually disembarked the migrants.
Long queues at the borders
Since then long queues began forming at the road borders, reported InfoMigrants French, as French police checked cars and lorries coming from Italy into France.
At least ten crossing points were reinforced with extra personnel, reported the Italian newspaper Il Messagero, adding that at least 80 migrants are picked up by these kinds of checks per day, although the numbers vary depending on the time of year.
The newspaper said that as a result of the controls on the most frequented routes, migrants were being pushed to take more and more risks in order to try and evade being caught and stopped from crossing into France.
For instance, a young Afghan migrant died on the A10 motorway at the beginning of November, not far from Ventimiglia. News reports at the time suggest he was hit by two cars and a lorry as he attempted to walk into France on foot.
Sent back to Italy
French police chief Emmanuelle Joubert told InfoMigrants that since the beginning of 2022, "more than 28,000 migrants without papers have been found in the Alpes-Maritimes region," which covers both the coastal and mountain crossings between Italy and France. Most of those people have been sent back to Italy, confirmed Joubert.
The Italian prime minister, Giorgia Meloni, has criticized the French authorities for their actions around the Ventimiglia border, saying that pushing people back to Italy is "worse" than what the Italian authorities did by refusing to let the Ocean Viking migrants disembark in an Italian port.
According to a November 29 report in the regional French newspaper Nice Matin, almost 10,000 migrants have been stopped on the border between Menton and Ventimiglia, most of them at the station of Garavan in Menton. The team from the civil reserve is said to be 60 strong and helps bolster the French police’s controls.
Checks take place every day
Checks take place every day on the line Nice-Ventimiglia, according to the newspaper. The teams check everything they can, including the toilets and the train conductor’s cabins. All passengers are also checked and asked to show their documents.
According to the Italian online news portal Fanpage.it, many in power on the Italian side are finding the controls difficult. Giovanni Toti, the president of the Ligurian region near the French border, called the controls, which caused long queues at the border, "intolerable." Toti added that the controls were preventing some Italians who work on the other side of the border in France from reaching work. "It is a substantial violation of the Schengen treaty, which is meant to allow for free movement across borders within the zone," concluded Toti.
The Catholic charity Caritas told Fanpage last week that it had helped at least 1,200 migrants in the last month, many of whom had come from the Italian coasts and wanted to reach France. Many of those who hope to cross into France are Francophone-speaking Africans. Others are migrants who hope to reach other parts of Europe or the United Kingdom via France.
The president of Caritas in Ventimiglia, Christian Papini, reportedly told Fanpage that "often the French authorities will send back minors, whose ages they have changed. They send families back too."
The bishop of Ventimiglia Antonio Suetta told Fanpage that he thought the decision to strengthen controls at the French-Italian border was "disproportionate, inhumane and not very fair from the point of view of European solidarity."