The Another

    The ‘endless cycle’ of migration at the French-Italian border



    A young migrant is turned back at the French border post at the San Luigi bridge in Ventimiglia, northwestern Italy, on January 18, 2023.

    Between the locality of Grimaldi, the last in Italy, and the French commune of Menton, where the French Riviera merges into the Italian Riviera, the 19th-century English aristocratic villas, the bougainvillea and the blue waters of the Mediterranean have served as the backdrop for a permanent migration crisis for the past eight years. Since 2015, France has systematically renewed the exceptional suspension of freedom of movement there. Men and women try to cross the border, but others stop them and send them back to Italy. The pendulum has begun to swing again, this time taking more dangerous paths. In eight years, several dozen people have lost their lives.

    With the re-establishment of controls on trains, roads and paths that crisscross the limestone hills of the coast, this historic migratory route has turned the town of Ventimiglia, seven kilometers away, into a bottleneck. From time to time, occasional frictions between Rome and Paris regarding the migration issue are also played out there. On May 4, French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin deemed far-right Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni “incapable” of managing migration flows in Italy.

    In the first months of 2023, Italy recorded a significant increase in migrant arrivals from the North African coast. The Italian Interior Ministry reported that 42,000 people arrived in Italy via the Mediterranean in 2023, compared with 11,000 in the same period in the previous year. The rise in migrant influx is mainly due to an increase in the number of people from sub-Saharan Africa, North Africa and the Middle East leaving Tunisia. In response, the Italian government declared a state of migration emergency and called into question the international protection regime in force in the country.

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    ‘A never-ending story’

    The growing numbers have automatic repercussions at the border with France. In the municipalities of the French Riviera, governed by the conservative Les Républicains party, reception structures are said to be saturated with unaccompanied foreign minors and the summer is expected to be particularly tense. Since January, 40.8% of those who have landed on Italian shores are from French-speaking sub-Saharan Africa, according to data from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

    In a context of political overkill on the migration issue, the French government announced at the end of April that it would dispatch 150 additional police officers and gendarmes and it would create a “border force” including gendarmes, police and military, aiming to keep migrants on the Italian side. The Alpes-Maritimes prefecture has authorized the use of drones to monitor the border between the seaside and the footpaths in the hinterland.

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